Monday, 26 January 2015

Review: Paddington

This week I am reviewing the live action screen debut of Paddington (2014), the beloved Peruvian bear from Michael Bond's books and several television series. 

Copyright: StudioCanal
First of all, I must say that I did not grow up reading the Paddington books. In fact I don't believe I have ever read one. The only memories I have of Paddington, other than the iconic teddy bear, are tiny snippets of the television series that originally ran in 70's and 80's. So, I don't know if the story and characters hold true to the original source. 

Nonetheless I did assume, as I so often foolishly do, that like so many remakes of beloved children's films, it wouldn't be very good and would stray wantonly from the source material. However, I kept hearing people say good things, and eventually went to see it yesterday.

The film follows the young bear after he is left homeless by an earthquake and sent off to London by his Aunt to start a new life there, whilst she retires to an old bears home. Once in London, Paddington meets the Brown family, lead by the extremely cautious Mr Brown, who decide to take him in temporarily. Meanwhile, a taxidermist has also heard about his arrival in the city, and plots to kidnap him, so she can stuff him. 

I thought the film was extremely charming. It makes wonderful use of visuals, using cutaways and interesting effects to help illustrate the story -  in a way that sometimes reminded me of Sherlock. For example, when Paddington is writing to his Aunt in the attic, we see the dolls house nearby open up to reveal the rooms of the actual house and the actions Paddington is describing. Whilst in another scene, when he is missing and the family are looking for him, a large tree painted on Brown's staircase wall has all its blossoms whisked off, to demonstrate the feelings of sadness, as well as the change of time and the seasons. Lots of little touches like this made the film feel and look thoughtful and delightful.

It was also enjoyable to see such an excellent British cast. Particular highlights included Peter Capaldi as Mr Curry, who after seeing him full of wild energy as Doctor Who seemed to age himself in this performance, with his dank hair and slimy movements. Whilst I was surprisingly delighted to spot Simon Farnaby, who is one of the actors from Yonderland and Horrible Histories. Of course I must not forget the stars of the film - I thought Ben Whishaw voiced Paddington beautifully, and that Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins, who played Mr and Mrs Brown, were on top form as their respectively grumpy and chirpy best.  

Of course, I cannot finish this review without giving my opinion on the slight controversy that surrounded it during its release - that it given a PG rating. According to the filmmakers interviewed on Film 2014, they were quite surprised, having expected Paddington to be given a U. Whilst the classifiers argued they had done this on the basis of Nicole Kidman's scary villain. 

Well, in my honest opinion I can see the classifiers point. I thought the fact that Paddington was literally on the table unconscious whilst Kidman opened boxes of pointy instruments was quite dark. Though I'm not saying other children's characters haven't been threatened with being turned into fur coats or worse, the darker stuff is normally suggested and left off screen. And as far as I can tell the PG rating hasn't stopped Paddington from being a very popular film, with both adults and families, so I doubt it has done them much harm.

In summary
A terrifically charming film, full of lovely touches and a pleasing sense of English-ness to it, in its portrayal of rain soaked London. The main character is adorable and sympathetic, and the cast is excellent. A real treat for the whole family. 

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Review: The Theory of Everything

This week I am reviewing the Golden Globe and Oscar nominated film The Theory of Everything (2014) a biopic that follows the relationship between Jane and Stephen Hawking throughout their marriage.

Copyright: Working Title / Indiewire

The film begins in Cambridge, 1963, where a 20 year old Hawking first meets Jane at a house party. He is a jokey lad, doing cosmology and having trouble picking a final year subject. She is studying French, Spanish and poetry and believes in God. Despite this opposition of religion versus science, the couple hit it off, and after another chance meeting start dating. Hawking also gets an idea for his dissertation, inspired by a lecture on black holes. However, everything is suddenly thrown into disarray when Stephen discovers he has Motor Neurone disease (MND) - which affects the nerves connected to the muscles of his body - and is only given two years to live.  

When Jane finds out what he is facing, she encourages him to stay strong and decides to stay with him. Despite the limited life span he might have, and warnings from his father that she'll probably come second to Stephen's work, the pair get married and decide to settle down. Over the next few years they  have to cope with the emotional and physical  obstacles of Stephen's Motor Neurone disease. 

I think this film deals with its subject matter very well. It gives the audience a sensitive and even-handed look into the life of Stephen and Jane Hawking, showing us how two people dealt with an extraordinary situation and made the best of it. It seems to me to strike a good balance between showing how hard coping with MND can be, as someone with it, as their partner, as their carer, and yet it also highlights the precious moments of their life - their wedding, the births of the children, happy summers and celebrations of Hawking's achievements. In effect, though the cinematography may look gloriously nostalgic, the action and plot  feels like it stays close to reality - which it hopefully should, since the film is somewhat based on Jane Hawking's own memoir. 

That's the other thing I liked about the film - there were no bad guys. Even in biopics, certain characters might end up being thrown in a less then kind light, but here no one was judged. Every character seemed to be presented just as they are, not as caricatures.

A mention should also be made of Eddie Redmayne's performance as Hawking. I had heard that he been nominated for an award for this role before seeing the movie, I have to agree that his acting is incredible. His physical performance is so entirely believable, and feels so natural, that you never question it for a second - it never feels forced.  

Finally I must say that a reversed time sequence towards the end of the film and its end credits deserve a mention - as they were beautifully done. 

In summary
A well-shot, wonderfully acted, sensitive film about one of the greatest scientists of our time and the amazing woman who married him and faced Motor Neurone disease with him for many years. The Theory of Everything is a fascinating look at their lives that is well worth the watch.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Review: Yonderland (Season 1)... and a Happy New Year!

Well it's whole new year - 2015, the Back to the Future year! - and I'm back blogging. I have to apologise for the two month hiatus, though I am very flattered to see I've still had some views over the past few weeks anyway! Thank you for that! 

So, let's kick start the year and dive straight into a review. This week I am reviewing the television series Yonderland. 

Copyright: Sky
Yonderland is a strange fantasy-comedy series about regular housewife and mum of twins Debbie. When the kids start school, Debbie finds herself stuck at home watching mid-afternoon television or making tea, until she discovers an elf in her kitchen cupboard. He has come to tell her that she is actually the Chosen One, meant to save the magically Yonderland from evil forces. 

Originally airing on Sky, Yonderland is a home-grown British series, created by the cast of the educational, and entertaining, children's programme Horrible Histories  - and just like in that show, the actors taken on various roles. The series also uses a lot of puppetry, with several regular puppet characters on the show - Elf and Nick the Stick who act as Debbie's guides, being the main ones. 

Copyright: Sky
Despite the fantasy elements and puppetry though, I felt the show seemed to be aimed at a more adult audience. Though the humour is silly and odd, it seems to be appealing more to adult sensibilities - such as the villain Negatus trying to have deathtrap installed and going other health and safety and fees with a salesman, as well as occasional sexual references.

However, in many ways I think this is what makes it so enjoyable. It has a wonderful nostalgic feel of the fantasy programmes you used to watch as kids - with quests, magical portals and puppets - but instead of a child in the hero role, there's an adult saving the day. 

I certainly got a strong sense of familiarity from watching the show. It reminded me of a programme I used to watch as a child, Roger and the Rottentrolls. It had a big cast of puppet trolls and similar sense of ridiculous humour - just like Debbie discovers in Yonderland that she appears to be the only one with common sense, the young lad Roger finds that the Rottentrolls can be pretty dim and childish. 

In summary

Yonderland is an amusing, nostalgic and fun comedy, perfect for watching on wet afternoons when you just want to relax.