Finding Dory

W.W.D.D: What would Dory do?

13 years on from the incredible Finding Nemo and our fish friends are back – but this time Dory is the focus. Our favorite Paracanthurus (Blue Tang) is back. The phrase above is not just my new mantra for living, it’s the motto of the movie. At one point a character even asks himself, What Would Dory Do? For Dory is one of Pixar’s greatest creations – truly lovely, totally optimistic with a tenacious heart of gold. What is truly Pixar about both her onscreen features is how her having memory loss is handled – it is not her main character trait nor is it treated as a problem that needs ‘fixing’. It is part of who Dory is, yet something she does not allow to completely control her. Her much awaited sequel really does not disappoint.

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Adult Life Skills

British indie at its finest

This film sums up what we Brits do well – a somewhat melancholic story told with warmth and humour. An unsentimental tale told with compassion. Also, puns. There is so much to love about this film that I suspect I’ll be championing it a long while yet.

Anna (Jodie Whittaker) is one week away from her thirtieth birthday. She works at a nature resort in a middle-of-nowhere part of Northern England, lives in the shed at the end of her mum’s garden and enjoys making films featuring her thumbs with smiley faces on them talking about nihilism. Due to the relatively recent death of her twin brother (Edward Hogg) she can’t face talking about her birthday, yet it seems everyone from mum Marion (Lorraine Ashbourne) and Grandma Jean (Eileen Davies) to her best friend Fiona (Rachael Deering) and Fiona’s sister Alice (Alice Lowe) to the boy who used to annoy her at school Brendan (Brett Goldstein) want to talk about both her Birthday and where her life is going. 

Although the setting, the majority of the characters and their circumstances may not initially appear universal they really are. The film acts as a reflection on loss, self-isolation and the struggle to find who you are. Yes, as a 23 year old female that may appear more relevant to me than many others it’s relevant to us all. We all have experienced – be that aged 3, 23, 33,53 or 83 – a loss that derailed us, that either out of choice or not, took us on a course we never intended. Grief lasts far longer than the funeral and for some we wake up years later and look at metaphorically derelict path we ended up on. Anna’s self-loathing may be a concept I am all too aware of through personal experience, yet the battle to regain self-confidence is a ubiquitous challenge many of us have/will face. The fact we see such likeable and familiar-seeming characters facing this in ‘Adult Life Skills’ makes for a deep and visceral experience.

I apologise if the above paragraph made the film sound boring and serious. It really isn’t boring but it is somewhat serious, in terms of its themes not how it is told. It is properly funny quite often and whilst I did cry (I think it was at least three times) I did guffaw at least double that and left the screen grinning.

I loved every single one of the characters. I really felt like Anna became a friend whilst watching the film, she’s so well-rounded both in characterisation and performance. I’ve loved watching Whittaker in everything I’ve seen her in (Good Vibrations is my personal favourite) and her performance her is no exception. Fiona is brilliant as the best friend desperately trying to help her lost friend. Brett Goldstein, who was wonderful in  last year’s little known indie flick SuperBob, is just as good here. He is great at playing a logical figure to Anna’s less-than-logical thought processes, providing a truly earnest performance. Pus the man is an expert at eyebrow acting.

‘Adult Life Skills’ is now easily in my top five films of the year so far.  Whilst Mother’s Day (click here to read my review) may be filling cinema screens with a national release, profiting on cheap and disingenuous sentiment,  it is films like this we should be rooting for.  When the film ended it felt like I was saying goodbye to newfound friends. Yesterday’s preview was the first of my many watches of it.


Tale Of Tales

A twisted take on twisted tales

I bloody loved this film. It has everything I love in one place- fairytale s (the dark kind), kings & queens, tricks & spells, deals & plots, oaths & secrets, love & betrayal and tales of the unexpected. It’s all told so well, with so much love and care, with everything looking absolutely gorgeous. Last week I criticized Alice Through The Looking Glass for many things (see my review here)  but the main one was for being a ‘film which feels like it was made by people who read a book called ‘Pretending To Be Weird For Dummies”. Those ‘people’ need to go see this because this is how you do it. If you’re looking for strange, dark and morbidly entertaining tales then look no more!

The Queen of Longtrellis (Salma Hayek) is desperate to have a child but everything she and her husband (John C. Reilly) try fails to work. When a mysterious stranger, a necromancer (Franco Pistoni), visits the castle he offers a risky solution. They need to find a sea monster, kill it and then have its heart cooked by a virgin which the Queen must eat. She will fall instantly pregnant. The necromancer warning that this will be at the cost of a life – a warning the Queen ignores. 

The King of Highhills (Toby Jones) befriends a flea that appears to be able to follow instructions. A friendship soon blossoms and the flea grows and grows. When the now extremely and unbelievably large flea dies the King uses  the flea’s skin as part of a game – whoever can guess the what animal the skin belonged to will get to marry his only daughter. Such a shame for Princess Violet (Bebe Cave) that it’s an ogre who guesses correctly. 

The sex-obsessed King of Strongcliff (Vincent Cassel) hears the voice of an angel whilst prowling his kingdom. He pursues the voice and demands to seduce her, not knowing the voice belong to an elderly woman Dora (Hayley Carmichael) who lives with her equally elderly sister Imma (Shirley Henderson). Dora intends to lead the King along, knowing that she is putting her’s and her sister’s life in danger. A chance meeting with a witch provides her heart’s greatest desire – but is it too good to be true?

That’s only the beginning of each tale. There’s so much more for you to see – so much of which is unexpected, some of which is slightly scary, and all of which is a true pleasure to watch. It’s a feast for the eyes, the brain and the heart. The performances are all solid and utterly believable. There’s depth within each character, a reason and motivation rooted in their decisions. Hayek is stand-out, as is Toby Jones as a man who shifts from arrogance (‘ha ha they’ll never guess what animal it is and I’ll keep my daughter forever’) to devastation (‘Now my son-in-law is an ogre!’) in truly sympathetic manner. Even Cassel’s lustful pursuit manages to be bizarrely sympathetic for all parties involved.

The three tales are interwoven, tentatively linked within the story but fully linked in terms of message. The three tales are based on stories from a 17th Century anthology, they are La Cerva Fatata (The Enchanted Doe), La Pulce (The Flea), La Vecchia Scorticata (The Flayed Old Lady)- but they have been freely adapted with elements of other tales by Giambattista Basile, as well as a touch of artistic license. Although set in a medieval Italy it does feel that their are messages being targeted the audiences today – about consequences of decisions and the nature of family.

The costumes are jaw-dropping, the monsters Kafkaesque, the settings breath-taking, the soundtrack haunting yet never overwhelming and the performances totally memorable. Films like this don’t come around very often so see it whilst you can!



Love & Friendship

An exquisitely elegant Austen adaptation

Love & Friendship is an adaptation of a Jane Austen novella entitled Lady Susan, written in 1794 but not published until 1871. Almost impossibly for a work by Austen it has never been adapted before. After seeing Love & Friendship the viewer will be left with two thoughts, 1) Why on Earth has such a brilliant story not made it to the screen before? and 2) Thank goodness it hadn’t as that version was absolutely perfect!  Love & Friendship is an absolute treat of a film and a gem of a must-see.

Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) is a widow and notorious flirt. Infamous for her ways of manipulation yet so utterly charming, magnetic and witty that most of society adores her. Seeking refuge after scandalous rumours spread about her private life, about a suspected relationship with married Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O’Mearáin), she arrives at her in-laws relying on their forced generosity. Whilst there she must continue her desperate search to find her daughter Federica (Morfydd Clark) a suitable husband and an even better match for herself. Seduction, deception, broken hearts and lots and lots of gossip ensue. 

There are so many wonderful things to say about this film. The way the story is told is extraordinarily brilliant. Originally an epistolary novella (a story told as a series of letters) writer-director-producer Whit Stillman turns monologues into dialogue with perfection. The editing is what truly makes this a success – hopping between people, places and things – nothing needless is shown and nothing is needlessly reshown. As opposed to an hours-long epic the period drama is reinvigorated with this 90 minute self-conscious comedic romp. The threads are skillfully interwoven with many outcomes that you may surprise and will definitely amuse. The dialogue is wonderfully written, snappy and lively, serving as a great reminder of just how funny Austen was. The fact the film has an age certification of ‘U’ just goes to show how well-written the script is: never have such brutal takedowns been so politely and eloquently written. 

The characterisation is superb with every character, no matter how facetious or self-indulgent, managing to be immensely likeable. Beckinsale as Lady Susan is a revelation –  a character who knows nothing nor cares little for either love or friendship yet knows just how to manipulate other’s feelings about both. Lady Susan’s manipulations are extraordinary and so skillful that you can’t help find her likeable and end up rooting for her.  She’s nasty and self-centered, others distrust of her and resentment of her status is fully understandable as is their envy of her, yet the viewer is spellbound by her. Some of her best moments are when she is scheming with the American Alicia (Chloë Sevigny) when the conversation becomes a biting satire of late 18th Century aristocracy. 

The entire cast are just as brilliant, there are no weak links here, but it is Bennett’s James Martin that almost steals the show. His performance is so earnest and well-meaning as a character who is unable to utter a sentence without creating moments of sheer awkwardness. In a film full of laugh-inducing moments, I don’t think I’ve laughed this often in ages, it is his character who has two of the biggest chuckle/chortle/tear-inducing funny moments, moments which I have been quoting constantly since.

The costumes, sets and visual style are all extraordinary. The entire cast an acting masterclass. A script and storyline that make hilarious an understatement. Easily one of the best films we will see this year (it’s not even June yet). Go see it. Now!

five star

Eddie the Eagle

May Eddie the Eagle fly at the box office

One thing that really grinds my gears is when people my age say to justify a gap in their knowledge is, ‘Huh! Well that’s from before my time I guess.’ That is then proceeded with a slightly awkward shoulder shrug. For someone who often reckons that music peaked around 1985 I think it’s often used as a silly filler line. However, in a rather hypocritical move, I am going to say that the rise and soar then laughing stock of British skier Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards is ‘from before my time I guess.’ Occasionally he would pop up on various panel shows and people would poke fun, and I’d be vaguely confused and envious that a man with such an awesome nickname was being used for laughs (what can I say, I was a thoughtful child…) Anyway, I’ll save the rest of that for my therapist.

My slightly convoluted point here is that I had no idea what the man had done to achieve such levels of infamy and mockery. Then, when I heard of the film, I thought ‘Yeah…good luck with that one!’ Time passed by and the trailer was released which made me realise that the film was my kind of film. Then I got invited by Den of Geek to attend a preview screening and Q&A with the director, Dexter Fletcher, at The Courthouse Hotel (a 5* hotel with unbelievably fancy toilets) and that takes us right up to now. Three days on from seeing the film and it still makes me smile. It’s a truly wonderful movie and I beg you to go and see it. Now (and if you’re still with me after that preamble I declare) to you my utter love and gratitude for sticking with me) let me tell you why it’s so damn good.

Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) has wanted to be an Olympian for as long as he can remember. He was always the last to get picked for teams, spent a year in hospital due to the poor state of his knees and never quite seemed good enough for anything. He almost gave in and followed in his dad’s (Keith Allen) footsteps of becoming a plasterer until he found skiing, a hobby for which he had his mother’s (Jo Hartley) total support. He even made it to try-outs for the Olympic team before being told by the panel (lead by Mark Benton and Tim McInnerny) that he wasn’t Olympic material. That’s when Eddie decided that not only would he try on his own to make  Team GB for the 1988 Winter Olympics, he’d teach himself how to Ski Jump by decamping to a training camp in Germany. Either being ignorant or in denial about the fact that most Ski Jumpers start aged 5/6 (Eddie being 22) he proceeds to train solo with great resilience both from injury and belittlement from the experienced jumpers. That’s when alcoholic ex-ski jumper Bronson Perry (Hugh Jackman) steps in to help Eddie from death by training. A friendship/brotherhood quickly forms between the pair, under the shadow of Perry’s ex-mentor Warren Sharp (Christopher Walken). Will Eddie become skilled enough to join Team GB or will his dreams die again once more?

This film is totally and utterly brilliant; an utter joy to watch. Though it’s not a state I often occupy, I felt so patriotic after seeing this movie. Partly because it’s a British movie, and it’s the kind of movie we do so, but mainly because Eddie’s journey and how it’s told is so unique to British cinema. Yes, other countries do underdog movies, but so few do them in this way. Eddie’s journey is so lacking in glory, so real (grey-area term as some of the movie is fictionalised) that he reflects each and every one of us. It’s an important reminder not to give up on your dreams, and the power of self-belief. It’s also bloody hilarious, that blend of slapstick and deadpan and sarcasm that makes British cinema so comparatively unique. I giggled, I laughed and I even snort-laughed. It was glorious.

Taron Egerton is already on the up-and-coming, cusp-of-greatness list of actors and this film cements it. Firstly, a post-viewing google showed how similar Egerton looks to 1988-era Eddie along with how scarily accurate the expressions and mannerisms are. He’s also such a great actor to watch, his handling of the pathos and comedy of the character is extraordinary. You do well and truly root for Eddie. Hugh Jackman is great in his mentor role, forming a great rapport with Edgerton. Allen and Hartley are little seen but add much to the impact of the film. Then, with a brief cameo, Christopher Walken sasses the hell out of two lines of dialogue.

There’s also a wonderful 80s soundtrack, as uplifting and smile-inducing as the film itself, brilliant use of sets on such a small budget and some hilarious character actors in supporting roles. Eddie the Eagle is being released into the wild on March 28th, the same weekend as Batman Vs Superman. So why not give some home-grown talent some love and go see it. I promise you it’s worth the money.

We may only be a quarter of the way into the year, but this may just be THE feel-good movie of the year. Go see it.