Category Archives: Film Reviews – M

Mary and Max (2009)

“When I was young, I invented an invisible friend called Mr Ravioli. My psychiatrist says I don’t need him anymore, so he just sits in the corner and reads.”

Cast: Toni Collette, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Eric Bana

Mary and Max

Mary Daisy Dinkle is a lonely 8 year old girl living in Australia. She has no friends, comes from a broken home and is often teased at school for a birthmark on her forehead. One day she decides to write to a random person from the phone
directory and by pure chance, chooses Max Jerry Horowitz. Max is a 44 year old obese man who lives in New York. He suffers with severe mental problems that have left him without many close friends of his own.

After the exchange of a few letters an unlikely friendship is struck up between the two, and so the story follows their letters back and forth over a period of 20 years.

Mary and Max, hands down, has to be one of the best claymation films I have ever seen. I also
never really expected a film like this to leave such a lasting impression on me, but it has.

As a dark comedy, Mary and Max is such a step away from these glossy, generic animations pouring out of Hollywood that it makes you sit up and take notice. What we have here isn’t a cliched piece of work, but something that feels original, personal and innovative. Rather than going for the biggest audience possible, the story has stuck to some of its more heavy plot lines and kept true to its roots. Whether than means sacrificing some of its potential audience, never mind, as it secures the film as one above the rest.

The first wonderful feature you will notice about the film is that it is narrated (by Barry Humphries). It gives the film a beautiful ‘storybook’ feel and really suits its nature. It must be noted though, that just because Mary and Max is an animation doesn’t necessarily mean it’s aimed at a young audience. The film surprisingly tackles issues ranging from depression to
alcoholism and in my eyes, could be classed as more of an adult’s film. However, the scenes in which these heavier things happen aren’t too traumatising and with a nice narrater giving us the low down, it distracts from some of the heavier topics.

The film is also wonderfully funny. With Philip Seymour Hoffman as the voice of Max, we get a great delivery of Max’s lines, which are accompanied by a strong New York accent, very suited to his burly figure. This bumbling, naive man is a real treasure and having him struggle throughout life with a mental illness is really heartbreaking. However it does ensure a sense of innocence follows, which is perhaps why he connects with Mary so well.

Bethany Whitmore voices a young Mary and it just fits superbly with the character. Managing to get to the core of Mary, Whitmore really understands the young, troubled girl and gives a wonderful performance. Toni Collette and Eric Bana play smaller roles yet they are as equally as impressive as the bigger ones; this cast has been well thought out and it shows.

Mary and Max is a brilliant adaptation of a true story. Told through claymation, it has to be one of the most endearing stories and is voiced by some great people. I can’t recommend this film enough.

Star rating:  8.5/10

Directed by Adam Elliot.

Running time 92 minutes.

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My Week with Marilyn (2011)

“People always see Marilyn Monroe. As soon as they realise I’m not her, they run”

Cast: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne and Kenneth Branagh

In the summer of 1956 Colin Clark set out to make his way in the film business, finding work as a lowly assistant on the set of ‘The Prince and the Showgirl’. During his time there Clark kept a diary, ‘The Prince, the Showgirl and Me’, which was published nearly 40 years after the film. One week was missing (though published a few years later), ‘My Week with Marilyn’ tells the story of that week.

While I’m way too young to have known Marilyn Monroe when she was around, she has always fascinated me. Her short-lived life was filled with drama and intrigue and has left her an icon among the people. Surprisingly Monroe hasn’t been portrayed in a full-length feature film before (apart from made-for-TV drama ‘Norma Jean & Marilyn’), so My Week with Marilyn is one to set the bar.

Initially, the biggest issue surrounding the film was who was playing Monroe. When Williams was cast though, there was no doubt in my mind she could pull it off. Her gritty, indie vibe really allows her to get into character and rather than portraying this bigger than life, blonde sex-kitten we are all too familiar with, we instead see a complex, layered and vulnerable woman who just wanted to be loved. Everything, from her mannerisms to her internal conflict and wants to be accepted, was spot on.

Redmayne was also very impressive. His character is arguably the heart of the film and as the timid, star-stuck Colin, his talents really shine. Spending a week with Monroe and showing her the beauties of England, he falls in love with her – not the showgirl who entertains but the woman beneath. This relationship is wonderful to watch blossom as in this time, Monroe is stripped of her fame and troubles and is just a regular woman – something the world often forgot she was.

We also see appearances from Judi Dench and Emma Watson, adding further dimensions to how Monroe was received by other people – naive, troubled, sexualised, promiscuous, renowned – and lessening the focus of Laurence Olivier’s volatile and strained attitude towards her, which at times was sad to watch.

My Week with Marilyn is a great watch. You won’t get the sexualised, blonde bombshell normally portrayed but you will see fragmented bits and pieces of the iconographic woman she became in the public eye. Portraying the woman behind the facade and giving more substance to Monroe than just the typical caricature the world likes to display, this film still only just scratches the surface. I have no doubt there will be more to come in the future, but My Week with Marilyn is the first film to show us the girl behind the name.

Star rating:  7/10

Directed by Simon Curtis.

Running time 99 minutes.

The Matrix (1999)

“There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.”

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne and Carrie-Anne Moss

I don’t know which world I’d prefer to live in, but if I could be as badass as Trinity, I don’t think it would be a question.

When Thomas Anderson (Reeves) comes to learn the world in which he lives is a mere virtual reality, he must make a choice. Would he rather forget this information and carrying on working his mundane office job, or rather be born again in the ‘real’ world and help defeat The Matrix?

The year is actually closer to 2199 and a massive artificial intelligence system called The Matrix has taken over, surviving by using human bodies for energy and throwing them away once they’ve been rinsed. Not only that but The Matrix has tapped into the minds of everyone, creating an illusion that they’re living a normal life. Morpheus (Fishburne), the leader of the first group of freedom fighters, believes Neo is “The One” who can crack The Matrix bringing people to both physical and psychological freedom.

Even after 13 years, The Matrix is still one of the best sci-fi films I have seen. The visuals are simply stunning and for a film like this to come out back then, most certainly paved the way for more challenging and daring films. Along with the special effects and complex fight scenes, which were all shot beautifully and with a very specific goal in mind (to blow your mind), the characters were brilliant.

Neo is a great protagonist. Just a normal guy given the chance to be something amazing, and his character development is fantastic to watch. While Reeves isn’t the best actor, I don’t know of anyone else who would have been suited to this part. He’s not all that terrible as Neo and to be honest, anyone pitted alongside Fishburne is going to be questioned in terms of acting. His boy-next-door look also works to make him more relatable as a character, a great quality to have when part of the message is about becoming lost amongst the masses. Fishburne was excellent as the mysterious and enticing Morpheus, and those glasses, well they’re just the best accessory. Hugo Weaving was fantastic as Agent Smith too, he created this character that I truly despised. In fact everyone did that well. They all made you feel something for their characters and it was this investment that made them become so interesting and three dimensional.

The only thing I can really say is that the concept is quite heavy first time around. It might even take a second watch to understand it fully. You can get a bit lost and caught up in the excitement too and this distraction might make you think why all of this is even happening half way through the film. If you do understand it and keep up though, it’s awesome.

The Matrix is very intelligently written and aesthetically pleasing. While religious or political meanings can be drawn from the script, taking it how it is, as a great sci-fi film, should be enough to just sit down and watch it. It will make you think and maybe even question a few things, but all in all, there’s no doubt that you’ll be thinking about The Matrix for some time to come.

Star rating: 8.5/10

Directed by Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski.

Running time 136 minutes.

Man On Wire (2008)

“The fact that I could not speak French, and didn’t know what the sound was or what had happened with the wire… was probably just as well.”

Cast: Philippe Petit, Jean François Heckel, Jean-Louis Blondeau

Seeing really is believing. But I think I’ll just go on and watch this a few more times.

Man On Wire is a documentary about French tightrope walker Phillippe Petit and his quest to conquer the unbelievable, wire walking between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York. We are shown how he and his gang managed to outwit security, defy gravity and push the limits of the impossible sky high.

In August 1974 Philippe Petit amazed the world by doing the down right dangerous, but simply stunning act, of walking 8 times across a wire between the 2 tallest buildings in New York City. While onlookers stopped in the street and the police and rescue services were called, Philippe continued to entertain the growing crowd for 45 minutes.

Though a documentary, this film really is entertaining, engaging and well made – I’m not saying that just because it’s a documentary it shouldn’t be, but just that it did all of these things really well. It surprised me how successfully it grabs the attention of the audience, mainly due to its fascinating subject matter, probably the most talked about stunt of the 70s. Maybe even today. While you could say: “Yeah I saw a video of that guy”, you haven’t seen the months of preparation, the constant anxiety felt within the group and amazing talent behind that “guy” until you’ve seen this film.

With director James Marsh having access to all of Philippe’s footage, there really was no limits on showing just how extraordinary and massive this idea was, from, at the time, just a young street performer. Through the use of actual footage and photos we are shown every bit of progression with Philippe’s plans, and very cleverly through restaged footage, the stories that are told by the interviewees are dramatised – adding so much more to the film. You could perhaps even class it as a thriller for this very reason.

The film moves so effortlessly between these bits of footage you also find yourself guessing whether it is genuine or acted. It manages to be quite humorous too, Philippe is an obvious entertainer and he relishes that fact, coming alive in front of the camera. One scene in particular where he and his friend have to resort to hiding under a tarp for hours while a guard on duty, completely unaware of their presence, wanders around the top floor of the building had me in stitches.

Another thing that is revealed is just how risky the whole idea was. Yeah, I do just realise what I said. Let me explain: never mind the height, the unpredictability of the weather, getting caught while trying to get the equipment up to the roof or the fact that he was walking on a wire, but the people rigging the wire – one of the most vitally crucial things that had to be done precisely – were not trained. Philippe had to teach them. No pressure though, right?

It’s a completely amazing story. As his friends recall the event, tears are shed and we can see just how emotionally invested they were and perhaps, still are. This was their friend and there was a chance he could be killed if he made even the slightest mistake. We can watch it now and know he did it. He’s fine. But at the time there was no guarantee, no assurance he was going to do it successfully. You can see it in everyone’s eyes while they relive that day. What pure elation when they describe how beautiful it was. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about how relieved and proud they were, and still are, of him. It is truly a spectacle to behold.

On the morning of August 7th, Philippe Petit stood 1350ft above the ground and took that crucial step. Shifting his weight from the roof to the wire. His friends worried they could be arrested for trespassing, manslaughter or assisting a suicide. They were right to be worried too. As the police turned up and threatened Philippe with using a helicopter as a last resort to get him off the wire, Philippe made his way to the side. He was arrested just as they all suspected. The charge: disturbing the peace.

Star rating:   8/10

Directed by James Marsh.

Running time 94 minutes.

Melancholia (2011)

“I smile, and I smile, and I smile.”

Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kiefer Sutherland

Thanks to a massive planet called Melancholia soaring through space and heading for Earth, the end of the world is near and there’s nowhere to hide.

Melancholia debuted at the Cannes Film Festival just as The Tree of Life did. Both tackling issues about the universe and the course of human nature, it’s exciting to see how each film approached the subject.

Melancholia is split into two halves, the first being ‘Justine’. Primarily focused on the wedding reception of newlyweds Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgård), we are introduced to Justine’s dysfunctional family. Filmed in a documentary-like way by a hand held camera, we watch as this just-married couple appears to be tearing at the seams already. As Justine’s estranged parents openly argue in front of the guests, her disapproving mother (Charlotte Rampling) announces: ‘I wasn’t at the church – I don’t believe in marriage’. Far from the idyllic setting that a wedding reception would usually take, it appears this marriage was doomed from the get go. As Justine runs around the grounds becoming evermore depressed and desperate, there is no doubt she is an unstable girl with some deep setting issues (which normally makes for good film).

The second half of the film is labelled ‘Claire’. Occurring maybe a few weeks after Justine’s car crash of a wedding reception, this half centres around Justine’s dull and monotonous sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her husband, John (Kiefer Sutherland). After the quick dissolution of her marriage, Justine moves in with Claire who insists she needs to be with family while Melancholia passes by Earth. However as time passes, the rogue planet appears to be closer to Earth than ever before, so we watch on as the end of the world becomes more of an imminent threat.

Melancholia is quite a depressing concept for a film but one that has a lot of potential to explore humanity, right down to our faith and hope in times of, literally, impending death. While I loved The Tree of Life, Melancholia feels like less of an achievement to me. Yes, some scenes are beautifully shot, but it’s so boring to watch. I expected a bit of excitement and a sense of frantic desperation but with such a boring cast – excluding Dunst who at times had me gripped – it was hard to stay interested for 2 and a half hours.

Though it has been praised for it’s artistic direction and sense of humanity, it didn’t feel new or evolutionary. The characters weren’t as fired up as I’d have been if this were to happen in real life, so how can we take this as a real depiction? No character’s reaction resembles that of a real person’s to news so huge like the end of the world, maybe perhaps Sutherland’s, but even that was underwhelming.

While I get it’s meant to be a beautiful, artistic depiction of the end of the world and on some level, a sense of realisation and acceptance that nothing else can be done, Melancholia was boring and uninspired. Lars von Trier rallied up more interest and questionable thoughts from me when he made those comments about Hitler in his press conference for Melancholia.

Star rating:   6.5/10

Directed by Lars von Trier.

Running time 136 minutes.

Midnight In Paris (2011)

“That Paris exists and anyone could choose to live anywhere else in the world will always be a mystery to me.”

Cast:  Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams and Kathy Bates

If you could go back to an era of your choice, in any city of the World, which would it be?

For Gil it would be Paris in the 1920s. Iconic, classic and very influential in progressive societies, it’s pretty easy to see why.

Owen Wilson plays Gil, a Hollywood hack that has recently discovered the true beauty of literature and art from the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso. When on holiday in Paris with his materialistic and shallow fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents, he is magically whisked away to this fantastic era at the stroke of midnight every night meeting the people who’s work he has become a great admirer of.

Films that go back in time always confuse me. Surely that whole issue would immediately change and rewrite history, never mind if it involves and influences main players like Picasso. That’s why to get my head around this film I had to discard my many questions. However Allen directs the film in such a way that science fiction is the last thing from your mind. Whereas most time travel films take up a large majority of the film explaining the ins and outs and logistics, Midnight in Paris is so sweet and charming that it boils down to something as simple as getting into an old car, no questions asked.

Owen Wilson stays true to his typically grounded and simplistic characterisation that we see in many of his films. This is great in that it deflates the ego the film starts to build up around itself. At times a bit pretentious, Wilson really does save it from being too ostentatious and glorified. After all, these actors aren’t actually the characters they are portraying.

The actors were all fantastic though. Cory Stoll as Hemingway, Kathy Bates as Gerude Stein and Marion Cotillard as Picasso’s mistress Adriana, were all main players for me. Giving convincing and interesting performances, it was great to see these actors play such infamous people that have become cultural icons over time. Hopefully Midnight in Paris will spark an interest amongst today’s younger generation towards the fascinating and influential period of the 1920s and onwards, including the pieces of work that were produced by the forever famous stars at that time.

Midnight in Paris is perhaps Woody Allen’s finest film of the past decade. Losing his spark and touch that had seen films such as Deconstructing Harry being sprung into success with high praises, Midnight in Paris will surely see his name back in the spotlight.

For anyone that is interested in the arts this film will be a great watch. Featuring the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter and Salvador Dali, it really is a dream for admirers of such work. Beautifully shot with some delightful scenes and in a true artistic style, Midnight in Paris is a must-watch for Allen fans, romance fans and literature fans alike.

Star rating:   7.5/10

Directed by Woody Allen.

Running time 94 minutes.

Milk (2008)

“All men are created equal. No matter how hard you try, you can never erase those words.”

Cast:  Sean Penn, Josh Brolin and Emile Hirsch

Milk

Sean Penn stars in the biographical film about Harvey Milk, a gay rights activist who went on to become the first openly gay man elected into the public office of California.

Milk is a truly moving film that captures the rise and fall of Harvey, who was unfortunately assassinated by Dan White (Josh Brolin), less than a year after he got into office.

The performances in this film are amazing. Especially from Penn who I have never seen connect with a script so well, his performance is most certainly the best and it’s great to see him pull off a role so well. Maybe it’s because of the undeniable history and influential role that Harvey Milk played in society. He is such an icon to the gay community and anyone that stands for equality, that I think everybody working on this project knew they had to do it justice. Brolin is fabulous as White and James Franco is brilliant as Harvey’s lover Scott Smith, really showing off his acting talents that are going to see him in this business for years.

The focus within the film was great. Yes, obviously there had to be a certain level of attention on Harvey as he is the film, but it never strays from the point at hand making it coherent and consistent, two great features that some films lose focus of when trying to be perfect in every way. It also doesn’t shy away when documenting Harvey’s life. Though he was fighting for a very just cause, Harvey wasn’t a saint and the film doesn’t paint him out to be – which only adds to his levels of humanity. Some directors may have tried to manipulate Harvey’s lifestyle in order to paint him as the perfect role model, yet it’s these little traits that really place the film in the category of a great biopic and not some distortion of the truth, which was a very redeeming factor.

Gus Van Sant directs the film and does so with a brilliant handle on the inspiring story. This film re-introduced him back to mainstream cinema as he had been directing art-house projects in previous years. It is smart, emotional, slick and very informative, and anyone who wants a closer look at Milk’s aspirations and vision should really turn to this film. Though these events happened just over 30 years ago it seems a lifetime away. The film gives great insight to a significant piece of history and shows how far we have come as a society since the late 70s, but don’t be fooled, we still have a long way to go.

I can’t recommend Milk enough, a fantastic film that shows the rise and fall of one of the most influential people in history and his fight for equality, Harvey Milk.

Star rating:  8/10

Directed by Gus Van Sant.

Running time 128 minutes.