5 stars

REVIEW: Treasure Planet (2002)

When Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) discovers a map to a legendary pirate’s treasure, he embarks on a journey with a crew led by Captain Amelia (Emma Thompson) to find it. But danger is close with John Silver (Brian Murray) on board.

Everything about this film is wonderful!

Treasure Planet is an adaptation of Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and it’s a story that works surprisingly well in space with it’s larger than life characters and the action and intrigue. Jim is a great character as his experiences shape him, he grows from being a young rebel dreaming of adventure to someone who puts his life on the line for others.

Jim’s relationship with John Silver is brilliant too. The film does a great job of showing how Silver isn’t a one-dimensional villain and while he may be desperate for treasure, he may also start to care about Jim as well.

The animation style is great as it’s a mixture of traditional hand-drawn and computer animation. The human characters are hand-drawn while more mechanical characters are made from CGI, these two styles along with the gorgeous colours of space makes everything on screen look beautiful.

The two songs featured in Treasure Planet by John Rzeznik from the Goo Goo Dolls are fantastic and I’ve been listening to them almost non-stop since I watched the film. I’m Still Here is like a gut-punch when you hear it during the film as you really see and feel what Jim is yearning for. The score is also great and it’s suitably epic and beautiful.

I missed Treasure Planet when it was first released over 15 years ago. I didn’t watch a lot of early 2000’s Disney films – I think I thought I was too old for them – and I’m annoyed at my younger-self as I was missing out on a thrilling adventure with great characters and stunning worlds and technology. Treasure Planet is now one of my favourite Disney films, it’s up there with The Lion King and The Beauty & the Beast for me. Treasure Planet is a great adventure and I loved every second. 5/5.


REVIEW: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

My original Captain America: The Winter Soldier review from April 2014 is here.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is attempting to make a life for himself, working for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and SHIELD when an assassin from history known only as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) resurfaces.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a brilliant film. It combines spy thriller with superheroes who are really down to earth characters, so well that it almost goes beyond being a “simple” comic book movie. The superheroes here are all very human, and besides Steve Rogers himself who’s pretty strong but still human, they are all people who get hurt and bleed.

Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is a spy who’s used to showing people what they want to see, so her developing friendship with Steve is quite special. They are almost moral opposites in how they see the world, but they find a common ground and seeing them work together is great. Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) is a brilliant character, he’s a soldier like Steve but he’s never been a part of SHIELD so is someone Steve can talk to and trust. Because that’s the thing with SHIELD, it’s a super-secret organisation where everyone has their own agendas, you can never be sure who to trust.

Secretary to the World Security Council Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) is new character who personifies SHEILD’s shady agenda. He’s an old friend of Fury’s but being at the top of the SHIELD hierarchy means he definitely knows more than he lets on. Captain America: The Winter Soldier presents the idea of an organisation with almost limitless control thanks to its surveillance and ability to act outside of the law – this is political thriller territory and it handles it all incredibly well.

The fight scenes in Captain America: The Winter Soldier thrilling and generally well-shot. There’s a lot of hand to hand combat sequences and while there is quick editing and a variety of shot types, there’s moments where the camera tracks whoever’s fighting or there’s a wide-shot, so you can actually see the actors go at it and it makes the whole thing feel more real and tense.

There’s so many stand-out scenes in Captain America: The Winter Soldier but one of my favourites is the attack on Nick Fury’s car and subsequent car chase. Not only does it show off SHIELD’s technology and what a badass Fury is, but it’s tense and exciting and you get worried because Nick Fury is not a man who’s supposed to be able to get hurt.

I can’t not talk about the Winter Soldier. He’s one of the most ruthless yet interesting villains in the MCU. The music when he’s on screen, ‘The Winter Soldier’ composed by Henry Jackman, is haunting as well. It has this low bass rumble and these mechanical sounds that are almost like screams, you can imagine this is what the Winter Soldier hears in his head. It’s a great piece of music and the whole score is one of the most memorable from the MCU.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is magnificent. It’s got the usual spectacle but with its characters who are so relatable and human, it makes it a superhero film for the ages. 5/5.

REVIEW: The Avengers (2012)

When Loki (Tom Hiddleston) arrives on Earth with plans to enslave humanity, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) attempts to bring together a team of volatile people, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Hulk (Mark Rufalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), who have the potential to be heroes.

The Avengers is a payoff for forward planning and investing in your characters. It’s hard to believe it now but The Avengers was a bit of a risky move. Yes, there were five films setting up these characters and all previous films were generally well-received and made a lot of money, but that was no guarantee that The Avengers would be a good movie that could balance its large cast of characters, each with their own extensive backstory and big personalities. Luckily, The Avengers managed to do just that.

The Avengers has spectacular set pieces with each action or fight sequence almost better than the last. There is a lot of conflict in this film, whether it’s the heroes against the villains or even the heroes amongst themselves. These are larger than life characters and they do clash, but that makes the moments when they come together as a team all that more satisfying.

The Avengers could have very easily been the Tony Stark Show thanks to him not only being a character we’ve seen the most but also because of Downey Jr’s natural charisma. However, thanks to a clever script that’s not the case. Each character gets their moment in the spotlight, secondary characters like Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) even get a moment of badassery. The script also allows time for these characters to grow while still having a firm understanding each of their motivations.

One of the highest compliments I can give The Avengers is that it feels like a comic book brought to life. The witty one-liners characters have, the way the script drops titbits of characters history or motivations with ease, and how vibrant and exciting it is. There’s a tracking shot, in the final battle, that’s almost lifted from the pages of a comic book with the way the camera moves from one character to another as they fight as a unit.

The Avengers is great because no matter the number of explosions and fights, it never forgets the characters humanity. There’s a real threat from Loki’s actions, as well as from the fact both the heroes and the audience are not sure they can trust Nick Fury and SHIELD. The Avengers is fast-paced, thrilling and funny. Seeing these characters together on screen is a joy, especially as the whole cast give great performances and all have brilliant chemistry with one another. It is one of the best superhero films, and Marvel Studios should be admired for successfully creating a cinematic universe, that so many other studios have been attempting to emulate ever since. 5/5.

REVIEW: Coco (2017)

Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) is an aspiring musician but due to his family’s belief that music is a curse, he’s forbidden to follow his dream. When he attempts to play in his towns talent show, he ends up in the Land of the Dead where he meets his ancestors and goes on a quest to find his musical idol and great great grandfather Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt).

Coco is Pixar’s latest film and they have once again upped their animation skills. Coco is a beautiful looking film. The Land of the Dead is one of the most alive places I’ve seen on screen for a long time. The colours are bright and glowing and the whole place looks and feels magical.

In the Land of the Dead, Miguel meets Héctor (Gael García Bernal) a kind of scoundrel but a guy who says he’ll help Miguel out. As the film progresses you learn there’s much more to Héctor than meets the eye and it makes him one of the most interesting characters. That being said, all of the characters are interesting, and you can understand where they’re coming from – even the members of Miguel’s family who are so against music. This is a family who was hurt in the past and fear being hurt again, even if that means stopping one of their loved one from doing what they want to do.

The themes in Coco are incredibly important and relatable, and are shown in a story that’s relevant to everyone. While Coco is about a Mexican family and features a lot of Mexican culture, especially Dia de Muertos (the Day of the Dead), at it’s heart it’s a story about family, following your dreams, and of life and death. There’s some heavy stuff in Coco about death and remembering loved ones when they’ve gone but it’s all handled very well.

Coco features some lovely songs too. While none of them are the kind of songs that get stuck in your head, the songs and the score, composed by Michael Giacchino, are beautiful and fits the tone of the film perfectly. That’s the thing with Coco, nothing about it seems rushed. Yes, there’s action and humour but it really feels like your just following this boy on his journey and it goes at a pace where you can take in all the magical sights and the emotions it gives you along the way.

Coco is a wonderful film. There is a very good chance it will make you cry, but it won’t be due to sentimentality, and that’s the best kind of tears over a film. 5/5.

REVIEW: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Seven months after the murder of her daughter, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) challenges the local authorities, who have not caught the culprit, by promoting the injustice on three billboards on the road to her hometown.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is from writer and director Martin McDonagh. This is the man behind In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, so if you have seen them, you’ll now at least a little of what to expect from Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – which is black comedy, drama and violence.

Frances McDormand is brilliant as the vengeful and hurting Mildred. She’s a woman in pain who wants justice and is not afraid to cause pain and distress in order to get it. Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is trying to be understanding with what Mildred is going through, and does his best to explain that there just isn’t the evidence to catch her daughters killer, while struggling with his own demons and an unruly police force. Dixon (Sam Rockwell) is a racist and violent cop and is no way a good guy and the film doesn’t paint him like one. He’s the main antagonist of this story, hurting anyone close to Mildred in order to get to her.

That’s the thing about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, none of the characters are particularly likeable and all of them are very angry and mean. While you understand Mildred’s frustration it doesn’t mean she’s doing the right thing, and while Dixon does evolve as a person, he’s never completely changed or “good”, he’s still the disgusting and dangerous person he always was, just changed slightly.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is funny but it’s also super dark – the script manages to balance these two elements really well. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is tough to watch at times, remembering a scene at a dentist still makes me shudder, but the incredible performances pull you into the story and gives you a memorable film. 5/5.

REVIEW: Iron Man (2008)

After escaping from being held captive in Afghanistan, billionaire engineer Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) attempts to right his wrongs by building a high-tech suit of armour.

Iron Man is a fast-paced film that’s a lot of fun, but has its characters at its heart. After quickly showing Tony’s convoy being attacked, it jumps back a few days to show you not only how Tony got into this situation, but gain an insight into his character before he goes through this traumatic event. This snapshot of life gives you brief introductions to his friend Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Terrence Howard), assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and business partner Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges). Seeing Tony’s life before, and after, he’s kidnapped gives you the chance to see not only how much he grows as a person during the course of the film, but also how his relationships may change.

Downey Jr. is so charismatic as Tony Stark that you do don’t mind spending the majority of this film with him out of the suit. Downey Jr. balances Stark’s narcissistic tendencies with his vulnerabilities, making him an unusual and surprisingly layered hero.

The action sequences in Iron Man are great. The film makes you wait a while to see the proper Iron Man suit in action, but it’s worth it. The CGI is top-notch, as are the pyrotechnics which are used in abundance.

Iron Man does offer a commentary on the War on Terror and America’s involvement in the Middle East, but it never delves too deeply into the issue. Instead, it packages into a story that will reach a wider audience and let them make their own opinions if they want to consider it for longer. One of the big themes of Iron Man is accountability. It’s something that Tony Stark struggles with and, knowing what happens in future films in the MCU, is an important part of his character.

Iron Man is a pretty perfect superhero film. It has a good script, that has witty lines but also does a good job at pacing itself with the big reveals, has a great cast, and blends action with suspense. Iron Man is the foundations the Marvel Cinematic Universe is built on, and those foundations are strong. 5/5.

REVIEW: Nasty Women

Nasty Women is a collection of essays and accounts on what it is to be a woman in the twenty-first century, that was originally funded on Kickstarter (I was one of the many backers).

Nasty Women is a really interesting collection of writing. While they could be called essays, the way a lot of them are written feel more like an insight into someone’s like and how their experiences relate to society as a whole. Naturally there is a focus on feminism here, but there’s also writing about racism, sexuality, class, disability and how all those things and more intersect with feminism and what it means to be a woman today.

Naturally there were some essays I related to more due to shared experiences, but it was great to have my eyes opened to things I wouldn’t normally notice as an able-bodied white woman. The thing I really liked though, was each essay managed to make me empathise with the writer as it was clear they were writing from the heart, often sharing personal fears and tragedies. that being said, some of them were quite funny and some were like hearing a friend talk rather than it being a “proper” essay.

I liked that there were essays I didn’t really expect. A few of them talked about the Punk scene, whether that was being a part of a band or just enjoying the music and atmosphere, and there was one essay, Foraging and Feminism: Hedge-witchcraft in the 21st Century by Alice Tarbuck, that talked about wise women and witches from the past to modern day – it was something I’d never really thought about before.

One line from The Dark Girl’s Enlightenment by Joelle A. Owusu, the final essay in the collection, that stuck with me was the following: ““Not everything is about race.” “Not everything is sexist.” Perhaps not. But enough of it is for it to be an ongoing problem that we simply cannot sweep under the carpet anymore.” It encapsulates that there is so much still to be done for women in this world, even in the West where sometimes the narrative is “women in X country have got it worse than you” Women around the world suffer in different ways, some may seem small to outsiders looking in, but it all hurts.

Nasty Women is a great collection of writing from twenty-two different women. Those essays that talked about Trump’s election or living in a post-Brexit Britain were often the ones that hit home for me, but there are so many touching and interesting essays in here and they are accessible too. 5/5.