Film in 500: Mary and the Witch’s Flower Review

Certificate: U
Directors: Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Giles New
Production: Studio Ponoc
Distributor: Altitude Film Entertainment
Platform: Viewed on TV with English Dub, and on Blu-ray with Japanese Audio
Release Date: Out Now


Such a delight of a film. Whilst straightforward in terms of plot, Mary and the Witch’s Flower shines by telling that story of magic and adventure with distinct personality and endearing characters. Adapted from the novel The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart, it follows Mary Smith (Hana Sugisaki/Ruby Barnhill), a young, energetic, and clumsy girl living in the English countryside with her Great-Aunt Charlotte (Shinobu Ôtake/Lynda Baron) and Miss Banks (Eri Watanabe/Morwenna Banks). Mary clearly yearns for excitement, searching for ways she can contribute to activities of adults around her – with an adorable range of success.

Mary finds that excitement when she follows two cats, Tib (Ikue Ôtani) and Gib (Lynn) into the woods, discovering a glowing, mysterious plant – the Witch’s Flower itself! In picking a bunch, she sets off a chain of events; the flower grants temporary magical power, allowing Mary to reinvigorate a broomstick that, ahem, sweeps her skywards to Endor College. This magical school combines the captivating appeal of Harry Potter with the otherworldly essence of Spirited Away – Mary, caught up in the rhythm, makes questionable choices and initially doesn’t realise the underhand goings-on. Consequences drive Mary to amend the situation and help those compromised by it, such as similarly-aged Peter (Ryûnosuke Kamiki/Louis Ashborne Serkis).

Two extravagant major figures at Endor College are Madam Mumblechook (Yûki Amami/Kate Winslet) and Doctor Dee (Fumiya Kohinata/Jim Broadbent) – each is a charismatic and formidable presence. As aforementioned, the narrative is quite linear in terms of obstacles encountered and solved. Though, I found this worked well. As there aren’t many side characters, screen time is centred on those we’re most invested in; it felt as though Mary was in almost every frame! It builds a strong connection, where I was rooting for her, her family, and her friends to make it. A plot doesn’t always have to be extremely layered for a film to be compelling.

Furthermore, art and music direction is stunning. The founder of Studio Ponoc is the former Studio Ghibli lead film producer Yoshiaki Nishimura, and carry-over is keenly felt, with a different edge of contrasting clarity. Use of painterly backgrounds with more clearly defined animation on top creates effective immersion – a duality emphasising emphasises the merging of Japanese style and English setting.

In a similar vein, the music has welcoming charm, subtle yet striking – there is the air of referencing tradition and also striving for the new. Whilst mentioning audio, I must bring up the fantastic, expressive Japanese and English voice casts. I shall reiterate that Mary is the star here, with a fiery, determined approach to tackling hardships and accepting change.


Final Thoughts

So much charm is in Mary and the Witch’s Flower. The plot may not be the most complex you will ever watch, yet the spellbinding setting and likeable characters produce an adventurous spirit, compounded by joyful creativity of sight and sound. A certain marvel is in a wondrous story well told; it’s hard to ask for more when you’re having this much fun.

8.5/10

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Film in 500: Tenet Review

Certificate: 12A
Writer/Director: Christopher Nolan
Production: Warner Bros., Syncopy
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Platform: Reviewing after watching at the cinema
Release Date: Out Now


“Don’t try to understand it,” says Barbara (Clémence Poésy), “Feel it,” she tells The Protagonist (John David Washington) – yes, that’s his name – early in Tenet, and it’s as though she’s speaking to us too. It’s a description of the time-altering properties core to the film, granting the possibility of moving backwards in time. Not quite time-travel, more reversing your temporal movement. Confused yet?

Tenet is the latest from the acclaimed director Christopher Nolan, known for subverting dimensions; particularly time, for example in Interstellar and Dunkirk. It feels as though Tenet is an evolution of that, running with the central idea to smart, layered, and occasionally over-complicated effect.

Set in nondescript modern times, Tenet opens with the rigorous infiltration of a musical performance, vividly reminding me of the opening to The Dark Knight. It kicks the film off with grounded yet heightened energy; after this excursion, The Protagonist is told of “inverted” objects making their way back from the future, and their potentially world-ending implications. What follows is James Bond-esque, world-trotting to discover and infiltrate new locations and individuals.

In the lead role, John David Washington is superb, portraying efficient proficiency – viscerally put across with an early kitchen fight – and a knowing inexperience of the luxurious, questionable lives he encounters. The Protagonist is earnestly likeable, an important quality given how character insights take a back seat to plot-focused dialogue. Take teammate-becomes-friend Ives (Robert Pattinson); I would’ve welcomed more development of their dynamic.

On the other hand, standout throughout is Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), wife of unsettling main antagonist Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh). She’s an in for The Protagonist, however the blackmail-fueled control Sator has over her calls priorities of multiple characters into question. In among talk of apocalypse, this emotional edge adds humanity to Tenet.

Meanwhile, the presence of inverted time signifies escalating stakes. It’s an unorthodox cinematic device – imagine certain aspects in reverse: unknown marks in a room could be from actions yet to happen; or a bullet seemingly levitating into a hand may actually be dropped the other way. Whilst Tenet infrequently overshadows itself with intricacies, it also rewards focusing on details.

Action scenes are staggering, mostly practical effects with post-production inversion. Clashing temporal directions bring new meaning to the physics of corridor fights, car chases; Tenet doesn’t hold back – the set pieces consecutively raise the bar of implementing inversion, put on-screen in polished style.

Brilliantly emphasising the experience is the score, a delicately intense mix of staggered notes playing into the time motif. It’s very reminiscent of the gradual audio build-up of Dunkirk, with added contemporary vibes comparable to Inception, to name one.


Final Thoughts

Tenet is a rough diamond; the central conceit is basis for spectacular flashpoints, yet by over-explaining itself the film loses opportunity to inform character development. The innovative filmmaking is an impressive showcase for how to surprise within a medium and genre. When Tenet focuses on the intricate and strikingly-structured story it has to offer, it’s a thriller quite different to any other.

8.5/10

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Film in 500: Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms Review

Certificate: 15
Director: Mari Okada
Production: P.A Works
Distributor: All the Anime
Platform: Reviewing the Blu-ray Version
Release Date: Out Now


Around the time I saw A Silent Voice, I also watched Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms, another fantastic anime film which impresses with style and substance. So, as I did my first 500 word review on the former, I’m following up with one for Maquia!

The film opens with smart, snappily-paced world-building; in this fantastical reality, Iolph is home to the Iorph, a long-living species that maintain youthful appearances over their centuries of existence. They’re skilled weavers of Hibiol, a precious material with an abstract quality of documenting time. Sadly, there are those after these traits for their own means; invaders from Mezarte break into this wondrous locale and forcefully take Leilia (Ai Kayano). In the chaos, the young Iorph Maquia (Manaka Iwami) is unwittingly separated from the others as she evades capture.

In an unfamiliar locale, Maquia discovers a child stranded in the arms of his deceased mother. With determined spirit, she takes it upon herself to be a maternal figure for this child, named Ariel (Miyu Irino – who voices Shôya in A Silent Voice, how’s that for a coincidence?!). The following years are relatively peaceful; they’re taken in by a farmer family, providing Maquia with further human support. It’s an endearing section of the film, where we gain empathy for these characters before emotional friction arises as Maquia grows up at a visibly different pace to those around her.

The Iorph warn themselves not to get invested in human relationships, due to how the difference in lifespan shall likely cause heartbreak. For Maquia, the most evident visual change is her hair turning sunset orange/brown (see image above), but for Ariel, he is growing into a young man and dealing with conflicting thoughts about Maquia as a mother and a female; it’s handled delicately, with no scenes being unnecessarily provocative.

Elsewhere, we see how other scattered Iorph are handling themselves, as an ambitious and dramatic plan brews to save Leilia from her imprisonment. The insight into different situations and perspectives adds depth to the family themes, but I’ll that none of these dynamics are as well-developed as that of Maquia and Ariel, and the film suffers for it at points.

Visually, Maquia is very proficient, but I’d say it lacks that final edge of refinement that, say, Your Name has. It just appears a smidgen dated, but still, it’s often beautiful, especially when using the visual motif of weaving. The music is traditionally elegant, with a soft, melodic feel carried throughout.


Final Thoughts

If it isn’t clear yet, the idea of family is central to Maquia, in particular the many alternate forms it can take from generation to generation. Not all the relationships are given as much attention as that of Maquia and Ariel, which slightly limits the impact of certain plot events and their subsequent payoff later on. However, the overriding commentary on relatable relationships is interwoven with a world of magical possibility, one which sweeps you up for a journey speaking to how family goes beyond any one person.

8.5/10

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Film in 500: A Silent Voice Review

Certificate: 12
Director: Naoko Yamada
Production: Kyoto Animation/Pony Canyon/ABC Animation/Quaras/Shochiku/Kodansha
Distributor: All the Anime
Platform: Reviewing the Blu-ray Version
Release Date: Out Now


OK, I am trying a new format here; I have less experience reviewing films than I do games or TV shows, so to try and create some structure for myself to produce more articles on films, I am testing out my new idea for a running feature: “Film in 500”, where I review films I have seen within the extent of 500 words. It may help me getting more film reviews done, as for some reason I have previously found them a bit daunting, being unsure of how specific to be when going into the story details; with this word count, I shall be tasked with being concise!

I mean, blimey, that one paragraph was around 100 words (this isn’t counting for the review)! This could be genius, or could go wrong… ah well, let’s try it, beginning with a review for A Silent Voice: The Movie! Oh, and do let me know your opinion on this set-up for film reviews. Would be very helpful to know if this works well! 🙂

What have I gotten myself into…

In the quest through my Blu-rays, I recently viewed A Silent Voice: The Movie, a poignantly told story about events that unfold after a case of school bullying. Shoko Nishimiya (Saori Hayami) joins a new grade school in Japan, promptly informing the class of her limited hearing. Many of the students aren’t very understanding, and Shôya Ishida (Miyu Irino) particularly bullies her – verbally and physically. He’s shockingly inconsiderate and mean-spirited. Shoko keeps putting on a smile and trying to befriend classmates, but eventually moves away to another school.

From here, we see how years pass and characters grow up. Shôya harbours guilt about his actions, and is himself now isolated and lost in high school. He seeks out Shoko to try and find resolution – not necessarily forgiveness, as that isn’t his decision, and I appreciated A Silent Voice having that level of emotional awareness. The awkward, well-intentioned reunion blossoms, despite inevitable roadblocks that occur as a consequence of the past; there’s an endearing message here about how we can change, but at the same time must be responsible for our behaviour.

It’s delicately handled storytelling that is carried through to the side characters. Other students have varying life paths and individual opinions on their involvement with the bullying; there’s an explosive scene later on, where true feelings are outed, and it’s testament to the film that it feels earned. To reiterate, however, the most powerful scenes are reserved for that dynamic of Shoko and Shôya. A Silent Voice goes to very emotional and mature places, so be prepared for tears to flow!

The animation style is slightly different to any other I have seen. It’s superbly drawn; there’s a natural, handmade appearance, with fine lines and painterly colours hitting that balance of being beautiful, but not overly extravagant. For a subtle, character-focused story, it fits very well. On the audio side are similar qualities, a focus on ambient sound allowing the excellent voice acting to be at the fore. Given the trouble Shoko has hearing, sign language is prominent, and the patiently portrayed narrative gives this expressive form of communication space to shine – it’s really engaging in such a visual medium as anime!

If I had any complaint about A Silent Voice, it’s that I felt it ended ever-so-slightly too soon. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a satisfying conclusion, but it was a bit sudden, as if there could have been another scene or two to further pay off the range of character arcs. Really, though, there is no critical flaw, and I can only imagine people being put off if the premise just isn’t to their tastes.


Final Thoughts

A Silent Voice tells a touching story about how we make mistakes, and should be aware of them, but there is always room for us to improve as people and seek forgiveness. In doing so, we can help each other in unexpected ways. With fantastic character development and inherent quiet charm, A Silent Voice is an important story I highly recommend.

9/10

Rating: 9 out of 10.

My Top Ten Films of 2019: #5-#1

It’s happening. I’m actually getting My Top Ten Films up to date (for now) with my five favourite films of 2019 (you can click here for #10-#6!). Take a read of my opinions below! As usual, I shall clarify; this is going by UK release date, so a film such as Vice counts for 2019. Here we go…


#5: Marriage Story

At #5 is a film you have to emotionally prepare yourself to watch. Marriage Story is about the divorce of Nicole Barber (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie Barber (Adam Driver) and all the agonising stress it brings. As a concept, that could sound an uncomfortable situation to invest yourself into, yet the rawness of the narrative being told and the complex dynamics between characters absorb you in. The two leads do an amazing job at balancing being both endearing and infuriating, both to each other and to us. Of the two I would say the film puts slightly more of a focus on Driver, who for me should have won the Oscar for Performance by an actor in a leading role. Both Nicole and Charlie have so many factors that have led to where they are now, and Marriage Story ensures that we see both of the multi-faceted sides, ensuring it isn’t as simple as one side being completely at fault. If you have witnessed or even been involved in those horrible family arguments where honest yet unmeant remarks are thrown back and forth, you may recognise that in the scenes here; don’t underestimate how difficult it is to create that on film, the sense of people who have cared so much for each other having their relationship break down in such a way. Director Noah Baumbach accentuates this with a slightly sepia, warm, traditional appearance, visually matching the richness and intensity of the subject matter – it’s as though you haven’t time to breathe, reflecting the way this dispute is taking over their lives. Find a few hours to really sink into this film; it’s intense, but also very rewarding viewing.


#4: Joker

Joaquin Phoenix is a showstopper as Arthur Fleck in this origin story for the Joker, directed by Todd Phillips. I know I just mentioned that for me Adam Driver should have won the Oscar – an Oscar which Phoenix won for Joker – but I do slightly prefer this as an overall film. A standalone tale (at least for now) this is a powerful message about how society can affect people and turn them into beings capable of horrific acts. We follow Arthur, who lives in Gotham, as he balances being a working clown performer with his personal aspirations to be a stand-up comedian. With the world seeming to conspire to knock him down, you can empathise with him; he loses income when he is fired; he has his idol shame him on live TV; and his mother is suffering with her health. However, when he then responds in violent and unsettling ways, you can’t justify those actions, bringing a conflict to the way you view him and his changing persona. This is a film with shock value, but I disagree with a lot of the criticism about the content of the scenes – it is refreshing when a film such as this really challenges you to make your own mind up about whether you agree or disagree with that which you are watching, and that can serve as a valuable warning about the real world. In the lead role, Phoenix is undoubtedly phenomenal in reflecting that complex duality, and the Taxi Driver-esque production and themes wrap this up into a hard-hitting, masterful adaptation of the well-known character.


#3: Earthquake Bird

This film is SO underrated! Available on Netflix, I saw this film at the London Film Festival in 2019 where it was – of the films I saw there – my favourite. There is so much about it that drew me in to the story it tells (based off of the novel of the same name by Susanna Jones); a crucial factor is the brilliant Alicia Vikander in the lead role of Lucy Fly, an English woman who now works as a translator in Tokyo in 1989 after living in Japan for 5 years. Earthquake Bird begins with her being brought in for questioning about the missing Lily Bridges (Riley Keough), and then the film shows the lead-up to this – immediately a fascinating film structure. In these past events, Lucy meets the mysterious photographer Teiji Matsuda, who has an obsessive fixation on her. They form a relationship, one that is made more complex by the introduction of Lily, who is outspoken and flirtatious in contrast to the smartly-dressed, more reserved Lucy, contributing to her sense of paranoia – a sense the film emphasises with clever tricks of cinematography. A psychological thriller unlike any other that I have seen, it doesn’t delve into exaggeration, instead allowing the wonderfully understated performances and the intelligent scene compositions to create a world of irresistible intrigue. It gradually builds the noticeable under-riding tension until it reaches a boiling point at which secrets, past and present, are uncovered, unveiling sides to characters that you may or may not have suspected were there under the surface. Alicia Vikander learned Japanese for this role, and the way she masters the ability to be fluent – very important for embodying this character – is stunning. One scene in particular late on is a demonstration of this, where the camera is close-up on her for an extraordinary one-shot of her describing an event from her past. Director Wash Westmoreland has this wonderful knack for constructing a quietly poignant atmosphere in his films that makes them intriguing without shouting about it (see: Colette). With the visual wonders of the Japan setting, this goes to a new level; tranquil rural areas punctuated by the click of a camera, the enclosed Tokyo streets ferociously stricken by rain, continuing on to the soundtrack and the way Japanese style is incorporated with the delicate vocals. Earthquake Bird is enigmatic and engrossing in a way I’ve never experienced before.


#2: Little Women

Released on Boxing Day, Little Women managed to impress me so much it took the #2 spot for my 2019 list from Earthquake Bird! Greta Gerwig is an amazing talent, following up Lady Bird (#4 on my 2018 list) with this modern version of Little Women, based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott (there was another film version back in 1994). This film follows the diverging and converging paths of the female members of the March family throughout their lives, led by that of Jo March (Saoirse Ronan), and including her three sisters Amy (Florence Pugh), Meg (Emma Watson), and Beth (Eliza Scanlen). All of their separate plot and character threads are intelligently thought out, simultaneously interweaving with each other to create a really authentic feel in the detailed 19th-Century Massachusetts setting – this film deservedly won the Oscar for Achievement in costume design. I have always been someone who is drawn to stories with high quality character development, and this film supplies so much of that; the growth of the sisters, and their subsequent actions, drive the film forward, also providing an important message about equality. The interactions of Jo March and childhood friend Laurie (Timothée Chamolet) particularly stand out as a demonstration of how real life can play out away from the fairytale idea and yet be just as, if not more, happy – and the performances those two bring are rich in the complexities we have seen in the lives of those characters. There is an inherent truthfulness to how we see these lives progress, showing that we can strive for traditional ideals whilst still being our own distinct selves. This film releasing on Boxing Day was a brilliant decision, as it is a film you can wrap yourself up in. At any time of year, this is a masterpiece, and there being a film I have placed above it in this list is a testament to how incredible 2019 is for films.


#1: Eighth Grade

My Top Film of 2019 is Eighth Grade, and if I were to make a top ten films of the decade, it’d be high on that list as well (maybe I should do that list at some point)! Another film that, in comparison to other films in 2019, isn’t talked about as much (Avengers: Endgame was released the next day in the UK), this film shows the trials and emotions of that delicate adolescent part of our lives in an utterly unique and real way. Eighth Grade focuses on Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) a teenage girl in her final year before high school; she isn’t particularly popular or unpopular, being in that position of trying to find her confidence as she weaves through the different ways you try to fit in, such as the terrifying idea of going to parties with people you don’t know well, or the joy of being invited to go to the mall. The way this film demonstrates the stress caused by these developments is varied and creative, making honest, uncomfortable scenes supremely watchable. Soundtrack and shot choices are part of this, with strikingly unique music by Anna Meredith and spectacular vision by writer/director Bo Burnham. Kayla’s father Mark (Josh Hamilton) is balancing on that tightrope of bring overbearing and caring as his daughter is growing up, and this dynamic brings incredibly emotional scenes – one in particular is an honest and heartfelt commentary on family dynamics that brought me to tears in the cinema. Even when the film could go for the more generic emotional crescendo, it instead has an impactful and natural scene of character development that is so much more satisfying. Additionally, an often ironic and self-referential sense of humour is there when appropriate to break up the scenes. I have never seen this balance of brutal honesty and endearing interaction in the coming-of-age-teen-drama genre before, and combined with the creative methods of showing the emotions of scenes, it makes for a film that has made me view other films in a different way and hold them to a higher standard. Eighth Grade is the best film of 2019!


There it is; my Top Ten for 2019. I have caught up! I did it! I have a provisional list for the year of 2020 so far, though there are several months left until that is set. Have a great day!

My Top Ten Films of 2019: #10-#6

Right; to get my annual top ten films lists up to date, it’s time to go through my choices for 2019! This list shall operate in a similar way to those of 2017 and 2018 – two articles, each going through 5 films. Furthermore, as before, I am going by UK release date, so a film such as The Favourite counts for 2019. Here’s #10-#6!


#10: Stan & Ollie

There have been a lot of musical biopic films released in recent times, which can make it hard for them to stand out from one another; however, through taking a quieter, character-driven approach to the twilight years of Laurel & Hardy, director Jon S. Baird manages to create a distinctively touching and emotional story about their final performances in 1950s Britain. Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly thoroughly embody the lead parts of Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy respectively, without pushing their personas into exaggerated territory – that’s saved for their iconic double acts! At the same time, they make evident the professional and personal relationship between the two and the challenges they face to maintain it in a world of rapidly changing entertainment. Their partners at the time, Ida (Shirley Henderson) and Lucille (Nina Arianda) act as great foils to them, supporting the pair even if that isn’t always through making their act a priority – the dynamics are hilarious too, especially the blunt remarks of Ida. As a film about a comedic double act, you would expect a sense of humour from Stan & Ollie, and it’s very much there in a traditional, innocent way that matches their performances. Speaking of which, those scenes are marvelously entertaining, and conclude in a breathtaking final display that celebrates Laurel & Hardy and their unique friendship.


#9: Frozen II

After Frozen – back in 2013 – wonderfully broke the conventions of the traditional Princess story, a follow-up was a real test for Disney. Yet, in my eyes, Frozen II surpasses the first film, carrying on the magic and taking the characters into very mature themes. We rejoin Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) living peacefully in Arendelle, but as a mysterious entity draws Elsa away from home, Anna, Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), Sven, and Olaf (Josh Gad) follow her on an adventure that explores unexplained mysteries and also has the characters discover essential revelations about themselves. The addition of fall colours to the pristine ice animation gives the film a stunning, contrasting aesthetic that is just irresistible. Music is a key component of Frozen as a series and again Frozen II improves on its predecessor in this area; it’s where some of those aforementioned mature themes come from, especially in The Next Right Thing, a powerful commentary on grief where Kristen Bell tugs on my heartstrings. The catchy energy of Frozen music is maintained, but with new depths of emotion; overall, the entire film has less of the more superficial moments that showed up now and then in the first film. Frozen II is an incredible sequel that raises the bar for the franchise in every department.


#8: Le Mans ’66

I’m a motorsport fan, so it’s surprising to me that I took a while to sit myself down in a Picturehouse and view Le Mans ’66 (Ford v Ferrari in the States) on the silver screen – and oh, oh ho ho, am I glad I did, as this film is a visual thrill ride (pun… intended?). There have been some phenomenal motorsport films over the years, such as Senna (2010) and Rush (2013), but I was initially concerned whether Le Mans ’66 would manage to have the same level of emotion – consider me very much won over! Director James Mangold viscerally puts on screen how Ken Miles (Christian Bale) and Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) worked with Ford to tackle the all-conquering Ferrari at the Le Mans 24 Hours. The competitive narrative keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout, yet it is that central partnership of two friends that drives (ahem) the film. It isn’t just their rivals they have to contend with; the conflict between their ambitions and the politics of Ford creates several flashpoints. Miles and Shelby don’t always see eye-to-eye either, but as shown by a hilarious expression of friendship later in the film, they are ultimately that: friends, motivated with a competitive spirit that is escalated by the budget behind them. There are a few small changes made to true events, but they serve to add emphasis and didn’t damage the messages of the story for me. Spectacular race sequences intersperse the film, culminating in an extensive finale at the 1966 Le Mans that gives the event the attention it deserves; the use of actual cars and racetracks whilst filming is so important for giving an authentic feel to the action. Also, so, the music… Wow, what a soundtrack! Composed by Marco Beltrami and Buck Saunders, the heart-pumping energy produced by the intense tracks for the races is incredible; with the incorporation of the myriad of striking sounds present in motor racing, it results in audio that shakes the soul. Incidentally, Le Mans ’66 and Donald Sylvester won an Oscar for Achievement in sound editing; furthermore, Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland won an Oscar for Achievement in film editing. It all combines to create a momentum propelling the film on to a poignant ending.


#7: Green Book

Similarly to Le Mans ’66 and Stan & Ollie, Green Book (which won the 2019 Best Picture Oscar) is a film about two men and the relationship they have. However, the circumstances of Green Book (based on a real friendship) are very different from either of those films. When pianist Dr. Donald Shirley (Mahershala Ali) decides to go on a tour of Southern USA in the 1960s, this means facing racial inequality and abuse, and he hires Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) to be his driver – Tony is out of a job as a bouncer, and takes the role on despite it meaning he has to leave his family until Christmas. Dr. Shirley is a well-mannered, proud man who takes his art seriously, very different to the blunt, unhygienic Tony. As the film progresses, Tony witnesses the talent of Dr. Shirley but also the mistreatment he faces, having to get involved on multiple occasions. Green Book is exceptionally smart in how it portrays the views of each of the two, and how they both learn from the other. For example, Dr. Shirley helps Tony write better, more affectionate letters back home to his wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini) and in the other direction Tony supports Dr. Shirley in combining his pride with a more social and open attitude to life. It isn’t as simple as one learning from the other; it goes both ways, as relationships and culture should do. Scene to scene there is a range of tones, the film skillfully switching from light-hearted to dramatic and vice-versa multiple times, further showing different sides to the world and how the horror of racism can suddenly intrude on a life. Green Book has had controversy around it that I disagree with, as to me the whole point of this film is that these are two people with vastly different experiences who learn from each other, instead of just saying one culture is entirely right or wrong.


#6: Pain & Glory

Acclaimed Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar reaches a new peak with Pain & Glory, a delicate character study inspired by his own life. Antonio Banderas is exceptional in the lead role as the emotionally raw Salvador Mallo, a writer who is now suffering from less of a passion for his craft and numerous health issues – as showcased by a vivid animated sequence early on. We follow Salvador as he reunites with loved ones; meanwhile, the actor Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia) tries to persuade him to put his writing to stage once again. The film is punctuated by memories of his childhood spent with mother Jacinta (Penélope Cruz), where we witness key moments that made him into who he is now. This film is wonderfully delicate, a retrospective and introspective life story which draws you in and keeps you engrossed until the end. It’s starkly honest in the story told, and as ever, Almodóvar brings his enchanting direction and intelligent dialogue treatment. Pain & Glory is currently my favourite Almodóvar film; a magic spell of a film told with care, love, and a flourish.


The second part of this list, going through my picks for #5-#1, is on the way, so stay tuned to this website!

The Cloverfield Paradox Review

Director: Julius Onah
Writers: Doug Jung, Oren Uziel
Platform: Streaming – Netflix
Release Date: Out Now


Yeah, they totally got me. When the Super Bowl trailer for Netflix film The Cloverfield Paradox revealed it’d be coming that same night, it was a mind-blowing moment. Paradigm-shifting for the film industry, even, in terms of distribution – yet, the level of impact was always going to be determined by the quality of the film. On that front, Paradox stumbles a little. This is a firm step down from the brilliantly tense 10 Cloverfield Lane, but still keeps the intrigue of the anthology-esque Cloverfield series going.

Paradox starts in a very promising way, with a gripping plot set-up. The events of the film take place in 2028, 20 years after a monster was unleashed upon the Earth in the initial Cloverfield film. Almost all of Paradox is set in space, on Cloverfield Station, where a crew has been tasked with using an on-board particle accelerator to create a sustainable energy source for the Earth. Civilisation on our planet is close to a tipping point as resources dwindle, making this mission crucial – but around two years in, no success has occurred. With one of the final attempts possible, the collision is achieved, but overloads – with bad, bad repercussions.

Cloverfield 2

The most immediate issue is that the Earth has vanished from their sight. Have they moved, or has the planet? It’s a really neat story point that send shivers up the spine in a more layered way than your regular monster jump scares. Imagine feeling that lost in space, while also possibly carrying the responsibility for wiping out the Earth? Without their home in the windows, space seems much more empty. This is emphasised with striking shots of space at this point of the film, letting the vast gaps to any other stars soak in. Unlike the emptiness used in the cinematography of Alfonso Cuarón film Gravity, the distance to home is what gets the mind racing here.

It’s after this initial set-up that Paradox loses its way and goes a bit flat. The overload of the accelerator causes a bunch of wacky sci-fi horror side effects, such as a detached, animate arm, worms being displaced into a body, a human discovered mangled in the piping, and more. They’re all briefly entertaining but ultimately inconsequential, and the explanation for them is never developed beyond being a result of the accelerator accident. Similarly, the film never really commits to a story thread, hoping to distract with occasional shocks but never fully pulling us into the central journey back to Earth. Even with a bunch of side plots going on, it all just drifts suitably aimlessly towards the conclusion.

A big part of this is the characters, coming from various places of the Earth – they’re all serviceable, and the strong cast (including Daniel Brühl (Rush) and Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids)) do what they can with the material they are given, but they never form the chemistry you feel was intended. Hamilton, the lead woman played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Beauty and the Beast), is the only one to get any sort of backstory and emotional investment, but it is is nothing compared to the time and care put into making the characters of 10 Cloverfield Lane stick in the memory.

Cloverfield 1

See, events in Paradox are very rarely surprising. Given that the film is set in the inherently unpredictable Cloverfield series, that is a major flaw. The crew generally have things happen to them rather than actively making things happen. Compare that to Michelle (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) in 10 Cloverfield Lane, an underrated female lead who shows her resourceful personality through the actions she takes. She also had scenes with other characters like Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) and even Howard (John Goodman) that really fleshed out and developed her character. No one gets that sort of growth in Paradox, or even very much beyond the very basic realisation that they screwed up. As a result, there isn’t an emotional centre to keep us invested in the moment-to-moment of the film.


Final Thoughts

Just like the first Cloverfield movie, the failings of Paradox are – at least slightly – saved by it being in this franchise; the most intriguing parts of the film are what we don’t see, or might see in future films. News reports and climactic revelations do at least give us more clues as to how the Cloverfield universe works, and it is enough to keep the series interesting. Looked at as a single film, The Cloverfield Paradox is pretty unspectacular science-fiction, and hard to recommend amongst all the quality films available nowadays. On the other hand, for fans – or prospective fans – of the Cloverfield films, it’s worth a watch just to learn a little bit more about this enigmatic series.

6.5/10

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.