Tag Archives: 8.5/10

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.

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.

The Tree of Life (2011)

“The only way to be happy is to love. Unless you love, your life will flash by.”

Cast: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain

The Tree of Life is the most beautiful film I’ve seen in a long time. Maybe the most beautiful film I’ve seen, period.

In what can only be described as an epic, director Terrence Malick has brought breathtaking visuals and awesome photography of the highest standards and layered it over a fairly simple plot.

Modern day Jack O’Brien (Sean Penn) starts to question his relevance and reason for being, on the anniversary of his brothers death. Through his childhood memories The Tree of Life explores his adolescent years during the 1950s in Waco, Texas. With the sweet and sensitive grace of his mother completely contrasted against the brash, hard and unforgiving nature of his father, his pubescent years are very much a struggle for Jack who is simply torn in finding the right path to take.

The actors are all superb. Brad Pitt plays an emotionally withdrawn, business oriented man striving for success. In the film depicted as taking the path of nature, he is hard on his children and tells them that to be successful in this world, sacrifices are to be made. You won’t get anywhere by being a pushover. Jessica Chastain would be this ‘pushover’ he is referring to. The wife of Pitt and mother to his 3 children, Chastain’s character is seen to adopt the much more loving and homely way of grace. Believing that life is nothing without love, she tries to influence her boys in making the decision to stay on the path of grace which can only leave you feeling like life is worth something.

However their 3 boys are very much torn between their parents. All 3 of the actors that portray the children are brilliant, Hunter McCraken, Laramie Eppler and Tye Sheridan. Hunter, who portrays a young Jack, is especially great. His efforts at keeping within his mother’s way of grace are difficult for him, especially with his father hammering home he’ll make it nowhere with this mentality. He battles constantly and starts to lose his way when his father leaves for business and he automatically becomes the man of the house.

Unfortunately for Sean Penn I felt he was dealt a rough card. His character is obviously going through a massive period of doubt and breakdown in his life, and the undeniable emotion that Penn was striving for wasn’t quite as well transcribed to film. Perhaps the editing could have been a bit nicer to his character, but I felt that he was dealt a bit of a bad hand which left his character looking a bit useless and detached on screen.

The bad things I can say about The Tree of Life are minimal. Its non-linear narrative can be confusing at times, often jumping from one time period to the next with no explanation as to why, and its theme of religion is fairly prominent, which isn’t to everyones liking. While you don’t have to be religious to understand the messages given or to even watch the film, I get the impression some people may find it too preachy. I certainly didn’t, but going to see this film in the wrong mindset leaves space for criticism, perhaps the main being the religious aspects of the film.

The major thing about the film that has been its main criticism is the artistic direction. For me, this is in no way a bad thing. Malick’s beautiful direction and unquestionable passion for this film has meant some have written it off as a pretentious effort at explaining the origins of the universe and religion. To me, this complaint is because they couldn’t reach out and find any other faults. The acting was superb, the visuals were stunning and they were simply left feeling confused about the story, so they turn their finger and point it at the cinematography. This isn’t why you didn’t like the film. You didn’t like it because your mind was closed and you’d made your decision within the first 5 minutes. (But that’s just my opinion)

The best thing to do before watching this film is to make sure you have no preconceptions or expectations, this is why I think I left feeling changed at the end. Don’t watch the film for the wrong reasons. Don’t watch it to escape from your own life for a couple of hours, because in the end the film will point back at you. Watch it to challenge yourself in asking questions about your own life.

Star rating:  8.5/10

Directed by Terrence Malick.

Running time 138 minutes.

Drive (2011)

“You put this kid behind the wheel. There is nothing he can’t do.”

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan and Bryan Cranston

Ryan Gosling is really on his game lately. Taking the lead in Drive he proves yet again that he is on form and willing to show us the best way he knows how – by giving a great lead performance.

Gosling’s character remains unnamed throughout the film so I’ll refer to him as The Driver, pretty easy to see why. The Driver is a young guy living in LA, he works as a mechanic and Hollywood stunt driver by day, and moonlights as a getaway driver by night. However not every crime scene runs as smoothly as planned and soon The Driver becomes tangled in a crime-gone-wrong.

Drive is just fantastic. It debuted at various film festivals and received a standing ovation at Cannes, so I knew before I even sat down to watch it I was in for a treat.

The visuals and cinematography are stunning, showing off a more art-house feel to the film than I expected. I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching an 80s movie in some places too, from the soundtrack to the uses of neon lighting, wardrobe and themes, it felt like the boundaries were being blurred between generations and there were certainly some B-movie vibes radiating from the screen.

The performances in Drive were great. Gosling, as I’ve already said, is really finding his feet as a leading man now. Though he didn’t have as many lines as you’d expect a lead to carry, it’s true that actions speak louder than words. The Driver shows a massive range of character, from a subdued young guy to an overly violent and fierce man, Gosling was put in a role that really allowed for him to show his range of capabilities as an actor. He did it so effortlessly and convincingly too, pulling a much darker side out of The Driver that you wouldn’t expect.

Supported by actors such as Carey Mulligan who plays young mum Irene, hoping to find some stability for herself and son, and Albert Brooks, who completely goes against his typecast and portrays the brutal and unforgiving mobster Bernie Rose, the whole cast fits perfectly into the film without question. Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks and Ron Perlman also give unforgettable performances making the casting of the film a winner.

Drive is a movie you must see. Reminiscent of Pulp Fiction, Bullitt and Risky Business – all for very different reasons – Drive is bound to be one of 2011’s best films.

Star rating:  8.5/10

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn.

Running time 100 minute.

The Game (1997)

“I’m being toyed with by a bunch of depraved children.”

Cast: Michael Douglas, Deborah Kara Unger and Sean Penn

The Game

When wealthy businessman Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) is given a gift voucher for ‘The Game’ as a birthday present from his brother Conrad (Sean Penn), he doesn’t realise how much it will control and become his life until he starts playing.

What we have with The Game is a very smart film that leaves you in a position where you don’t know what’s right and wrong. It challenges the mind and dares the viewer to decide between events that are actually reality and what is merely part of the game. I haven’t been so engrossed and intrigued for the whole length of film in a long time, each scene had subtle hints and pieces of the puzzle suggesting certain things, but as soon as you think you have a handle on the game, it totally throws you off. But this teasing only works to contribute to the enigma of the film, one of its great qualities.

The film was all about Douglas, and he holds his part very well. He manages to pull in the audience and make you feel his frustration, yet not getting emotional before the film calls for it. He carries it all the way through and there is never any lacking on his part; he was cast very well as Nicholas. Deborah Kara Unger is a great supporting actress. She plays a completely unpredictable and impulsive character, very fitting for the film. She also ensures there are constant elements of doubt and intrigue and her ability to do this is flawless. I really had no idea where she stood until the climax of the film.

Before The Game, David Fincher had previously directed Se7en, so there was a lot of anticipation built up around the film. He apparently had his eye on this project for years, and you can really see his passion and talent ooze out in each scene. While some people may feel as though it doesn’t stand up next to the phenomenal Se7en, The Game is still fantastic. They both have completely different plots, objections and messages to deliver, yet each do it with a certain style that ensures that the full potential within each script is maxed out.

The Game is one of the best physiological thrillers have seen. A definite must watch and one that Fincher should be very proud of.

Star rating: 8.5/10

Directed by David Fincher.

Running time 129 minutes.

The Breakfast Club (1985)

“We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that’s all.”

Cast: Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson and Molly Ringwald

The Breakfast Club

When a group of school kids are put in a Saturday detention, we watch their day unfold as they try to entertain themselves from 7AM-4PM. While we are initially introduced to individuals that belong to different social groups and due to this, contrast massively, we see the boundaries fade as they realise they have more in common then they first thought.

Each character epitomises their stereotypes, enhancing the distinctions and consequent conflicts between them. There is the sporty jock Andrew (Emilio Estevez), the popular, pretty girl Claire (Molly Ringwald), the typical nerd Brian (Anthony Michael Hall), the rebellious, wild child John (Judd Nelson) and the weird, socially outcast Allison (Ally Sheedy).

The film works so brilliantly as every character is relatable, if not to you personally then you’ll find yourself applying these characters to people you knew in school. What we see during the film is each character undergo a personal transformation as they reveal their own struggles placed on them due to their labels, and how at times they wish they could just be themselves, rather than living up to the expectations of others. Yes it is clichéd in places but it had to be, it was all about the stereotypes within society and when it comes down to it, it is simply another teen movie.

John Hughes was the mastermind behind the film and was yet another one of his 80s classics. It cemented the group of young actors as the ‘brat pack’, a term also applied to the actors in St Elmo’s Fire who merged with those in The Breakfast Club.

For me, The Breakfast Club is one of my favourite of Hughes’ films, tying positions with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Star rating: 8.5/10

Directed by John Hughes.

Running time 97 minutes.

Hanna (2011)

“I just missed your heart.”

Cast:  Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett and Eric Bana


Wow. I had no idea what this film was about before I went to see it, but it blew me away.

Growing up in an isolated and desolate Finland, Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is raised by her father Erik (Eric Bana), who spends his time training her as an assassin.

As she is quickly reintroduced into a busy and populated world, one that is very different to the remote place she has known all her life, Hanna is tracked by CIA agents who have been recruited to kill her. We don’t find out why until later in the film, and the withholding of this information really had me gripped.

The whole film is built on suspense and action, which I loved. There are also elements of humour making the film more accessible and humanly, primarily when Hanna meets a family that look after her for a while. With Hanna not having had any human contact her whole life apart from her father, she is intrigued yet cautious when opening up to the family, yet is pleased to have made her first ever friend in Sophie (a hilarious Jessica Barden).

The other great thing about the film was the score, which was at the hands of The Chemical Brothers. Though you wouldn’t think that such a techno, house-band could be so successfully involved in the action, thriller type genre, the music fit surprisingly well and worked perfectly in building tension.

Although I haven’t seen Saoirse Ronan in any films before, she starred in Atonement in 2007 which is another of Joe Wright’s films, and she was nominated for an Oscar for her performance. She is a brilliant actress and at just 17 she has so much potential, a big career ahead for her I think. As Hanna she really manages to capture this ‘lost girl’ persona and is entrancing in all of her scenes, she had my full attention. She fits perfectly in the role.

Cate Blanchett plays Marissa, the head of the whole CIA operation. Ruthless and wanting one thing only, she seems set on killing Hanna and Erik by whatever means necessary. Blanchett portrays this cold, hard agent with great success. Having no real sense of humanity but concise with details and results, now the opportunity to fulfil her mission has presented itself she is focused and ready, though not without caution. Bana was ok as Erik but I feel like he didn’t give as strong of a performance as some other actors. He was often up showed by Ronan and Blanchett, though the film mainly focused on Hanna so the camera didn’t dwell too much on him. He was good in action scenes and ok in others, but there was no sense of intrigue or charisma behind his character.

The cinematography throughout was great at showing us the world through Hanna’s eyes. We discover this new and obscure place with her and the editing ensures we share all the feelings of hesitancy, wonder and happiness together. The scenery is fantastic and varied, from vast deserts to stark snowy mountains, we see wonderful sweeping shots that really bring a sense of awe and beauty to the film.

The flaws in the film are minimal – some scenes could have been edited better, Bana could have been sharper – but these bumps are well surpassed by all of the other elements to the film. Hanna is a film that hasn’t had much buzz or publicity, well not anything I have been a witness to, but will be one that will hopefully gain audiences by word of mouth. It’s a modest film, yet this only works to exceed expectations that you may carry. A truly gripping and entertaining story, you should definitely check it out.

Star rating:  8.5/10

Directed by Joe Wright.

Running time 111 minutes.