Film Review: Stardust (2007)

I was trying to find a great romance yesterday and just couldn’t, and then I put on Stardust and it’s filled to bursting with romance and ticked all the boxes. It was so great! The film is based on the book by Neil Gaiman and follows Tristan Thorn, a young man from the town of Wall, who goes on a hunt to bring a fallen star back to Wall for his beloved Victoria.

In the story, Wall is a small town in England that borders Stormhold, a magical kingdom on the side of Wall’s wall (it’s not a very big wall, either). Before the central events of the film, a young man, played by the fantastic Ben Barnes, crosses from England into Stormhold and ends up fathering a child with a woman he meets at a market filled with magical creatures.

Eighteen years later, in Stormhold, the remaining sons of the king are battling each other for the crown. The ghosts of the brothers already passed watch over them, cheering the remaining brothers on. The king, as his dying act, sends his necklace with the power to rule Stormhold up into the atmosphere. The necklace hits a star, which falls to the ground.

Back in England, the child from the beginning is now a grown man named Tristan. Tristan is madly in love with the town beauty, Victoria, and is trying desperately to win her heart. When he and Victoria witness the star falling, Tristan promises to bring the star to Victoria as an engagement token. Quite problematically, when Tristan finds the fallen star, he learns that the star is now in the form of a woman. Tristan resolves to bring the star, Yvaine, back to Wall for Victoria. Yvaine is dragged along, the necklace the brothers want around her neck. Also at the same time, three sister witches are plotting to steal Yvaine’s heart, because if you eat the heart of a star, you live on, young and powerful. The heart of the last star they killed years before is almost gone.

As the witches and the princes follow Tristan and Yvaine, they find themselves coming across an unexpected group of pirates and their charming captain. Along the way, Tristan’s feelings for Yvaine grow and he starts to change his mind about Victoria and the scope of the mission he’s on.

I loved this film, honestly. It’s just so charming. The whole cast is great – Charlie Cox, Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, Henry Cavill, Ben Barnes and more. Honestly so fantastic! I loved Tristan and Yvaine so much, but every character was engaging and wonderfully portrayed. Definitely a film I’ll be rewatching!

Film Reviews: The Darjeeling Limited (2007) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

I am having a Wes Anderson Sunday. I was trying to think of bright, sunny movies to watch and the first thing that sprang to mind was The Darjeeling Limited, which is funny, because I haven’t actually watched the film in years, but I think my brain just went: whimsy = Wes Anderson, and that’s exactly what I needed.

I love how colourful and bright this film is. The soundtrack is perfect for Sunday mornings. And the film is just so darn funny. Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman are bloody hilarious together and I forgot so many of the scenes – the snake on the train, Rita, the constant bickering between the brothers; each brother waiting for one to leave before spilling the beans had me in stitches. Maturity, who needs maturity?! It’s a great film if you’re looking for brotherly love, bonding, banter and bickering.

I forgot about how much I didn’t like the mother character, too. Anjelica Huston is a great actress, but the character – oh! She was so thoughtless to her children. I’m really glad they supported each other, because she was very frustrating and cavalier. I want to know why. I don’t feel like we got enough context about the parents, actually. We know that they’re grieving their father, who is in a brief cameo by Bill Murray, but we don’t know much about him as a character. I like that everything focuses on the brothers and their growth and feelings, but it’s hard to understand why their mother just up and left them, and what their relationship with their father looked like before his death.

I followed The Darjeeling Limited with The Grand Budapest Hotel, which I actually haven’t seen before. I’ve always meant to, but somehow never got around to it. I’m really loving it so far. The casts in these movies are amazing and I love ensemble movies. The back and forth banter in the opening scene was great. Wes Anderson has such a way with setting the scene, bringing in the right music, making a story. It’s something I also really see in Bryan Fuller productions, too. (Thinking Pushing Daisies, Hannibal, Star Trek, etc.) That ability to make you fall face first into their universe. Not every director can do that and these two are especially good at world building and atmosphere. Peter Jackson is another that comes to mind (The Lord of the Rings, King Kong, Mortal Engines, etc), but there’s something remarkably whimsical about Anderson’s productions that I love. His films are like if macarons came to life with a 1970s soundtrack and colour palette, and I am here it!

Perfect sunny Sunday films for sure!

Film Reviews: Battle (2018) & Fierce (2020)

Dance/musical competition films are such a fun subgenre that I don’t watch nearly enough. I grew up with Save the Last Dance (2001) and Honey (2003), but there was a good stretch there where I didn’t watch any. Although Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020) was bloody hilarious. Break, that I reviewed a few weeks ago, reignited my love of the genre, so I marathoned a couple this week: Battle (2018) and Fierce (2020).

Fierce is a Polish film that follows a young woman who gets herself involved in a singing-on-television competition in order to impress/frustrate her estranged father, who is one of the judges. The singing in this is really, really impressive. The lead actress, Katarzyna Sawczuk, competed in the Voice of Poland competition in real life, and she’s fantastic. Maciej Zakościelny, who plays her dad, is equally as talented, and I loved his guitar scenes, haha. I also really adored the mother and grandmother! Honestly, the cast overall were awesome, the songs were really catchy and I liked the ending. There is one scene in this that had me like WHOA though, and totally took me by surprise. I won’t spoil you, but it’s near the end and I was like O.o for about five minutes.

Battle is a Norwegian film that follows a dancer after her father loses all of their money and they lose their home. They move to a new place and she hides the reality of her situation from her friends and boyfriend. When she meets Mikael, a young hip-hop dancer, she ends up discovering a whole new side of her new life and of other kinds of dancing. It’s very much like Save the Last Dance and Break, and I totally recommend it! The dance numbers are worth it and the main couple are adorable. Lisa Teige and Fabian Svegaard Tapia are brilliant actors!

Film Review: Stoker (2013)

Oh. My.

How. Compelling.

This movie. This movie. Oooooh. I’m not sure how I feel about it, but I do know it was very well done. It is an enthralling blend of muted, disconnected creepy, and disturbingly compelling. It’s the rare film that holds my attention so well. I’m not sure I liked all of the twists or the ending, but it was impossible to stop watching. A very well acted, stunningly directed, superbly written, horror show.

The plot follows India Stoker after her father’s death. She lives with her mother Evelyn Stoker, who doesn’t particularly care for her. The arrival of her uncle, Charlie Stoker, really shakes up their home. At first you don’t know what to make of Charlie. India and Evelyn know nothing about him, only that he’s supposedly travelled everywhere and simply never came to visit.

It’s a very atmospheric film. You see that Charlie makes people uncomfortable, that he makes India comfortable. There’s something a relative knows that she wants to tell them, but can’t. India’s mother, however, adores him. The relationship that develops between India and Charlie has an undercurrent of tension, and you don’t know what’s wrong with Charlie – or indeed if something’s wrong with India.

As the strangeness mounts at home, at school, India is continuously bullied and begins to respond, drawing both Charlie’s attention – and approval – and the attention of another boy. This event leads all three down an increasingly disturbing road.

The film is a psychological horror film with a dash of the gothic and a touch of the arthouse. I still don’t know how to feel about the twist or the ending, but I do know it’s going to be ruminating around in my thoughts for a while.

Wentworth Miller should write more films, to be sure!

Film Review: Break (2018)

Why isn’t every film a break dancing Step Up tribute in French with tougher characters and amazing romantic chemistry between the leads? That’s what I found myself asking after watching Break, a French Netflix drama that is 70% break dancing, 30% high quality romantic tension. The leads are incredible dancers, it must be said. Kévin Mischel, the lead actor, is a dancer in real life. (See this YouTube video as an example.) Sabrina Ouazani, the lead actress, does a fantastic job with different styles of dancing. I really wish I knew what all the types were called! I want to say air dancing (?), which is the opening scene with Lucie, the main character, dancing with Julien, her partner, on wires on the side of the building. Maybe it’s called wire dancing (?). There’s also break dancing, hints of ballet, street dancing, and dancing with silk ropes.

The opening scene, following a gorgeous montage of Julien and Lucie dancing, ends in a horrible accident when the rope holding Lucie snaps. After falling, Lucie wakes up in hospital damaged, but on the mend, and while she’s in and out of it, she thinks she sees her missing father watching over her. When she questions her mum about it, she’s met with lies, and once she’s out of hospital, Lucie sets off to find her dad, tracking him to a run down hotel in a rough part of the city where he works rehabilitating ex-cons. Her first night at the hotel, she meets Vincent, a dancer/ex-con with incredible talent but no desire to dance in public again. After Lucie sees him dancing alone, she pesters him to teach her, and Vincent reluctantly agrees to coach Lucie and Julien for their competition.

The script isn’t without its flaws, but the chemistry between the main characters and dance scenes are beyond perfection and more than make up any of the rougher patches of the dialogue. I rewatched the final dance scene and the club dance off so many times. AMAZING. This film is definitely for those who love dance and romance, and I definitely recommend giving it a try!

Underrated Movies You Should Watch

Mortal Engines. I don’t understand how this film didn’t get more love, I truly don’t. I fell in love with it the moment I turned it on. It’s Peter Jackson to perfection, the actors are just wonderful, the cinematography is beautiful, and it leaves you feeling like there’s hope at the end, despite the grim setting of a world of moving cities bent on eating each other. I still need to finish reading the book (which is really different, yet is shaping up to be just as awesome) but I truly recommend the film to anyone who hasn’t given it a chance yet. Ignore the reviews, it’s wonderful.

(My longer review for Mortal Engines from a while back is here.)

Kong: Skull Island. These kinds of movies are very hit or miss for me. I liked Peter Jackson’s King Kong, but I didn’t feel as in love with the new Godzilla films, which sort of overlaps universe-wise. The next film coming out is about Godzilla and Kong, which I’m definitely curious about after this one! This one though? This one is everything I want in an action movie: a historical setting, great characters, brilliant classic rock soundtrack, hilarious one-liners like: ‘Run to the side, you idiot!’ a line everyone who has ever watched a movie screams at the screen at some point. It also gave us one of the most fantastically random epic fight scenes ever. Behold:

If you haven’t watched Skull Island, what exactly are you waiting for, hmm?

The Host is a new one for me. I remember watching it when it first came out because I love Saoirse Ronan, but maybe I just needed to be in the right mood for it?? Because when I rewatched it this week, it just stole the emotions right out of my chest and it’s all I’ve been thinking about since. I wrote up a flailing book review for it here, as I promptly picked up the book after watching the film. It’s truly a great story about kindness and found family and the cast are so wonderful and the romance is amazingly angst and it ends so well. Definitely recommend!

Sorry, Jared, lil’ bit.
(gif set credit)

Tomorrowland. Oh my gosh, whyyyyy haven’t more people watched this?? It’s so freaking cool! A young girl finds a coin that shows her another world – a better world – and she sets off to investigate the meaning of the coin and finds more mysteries – and robots! – than she could have ever imagined. The film deals with concepts of utopia/dystopia, optimism/nihilism, history/futurism. I’ve rewatched it so many times and I cannot emphasise enough how underrated this gem is.

Anyone else have a favourite underrated movie that needs more love?

Short Film Review: Query (2020)

I stumbled upon this film randomly, but it makes for a really good short watch (I believe it’s less than ten minutes!). It kind of follows a similar format to the Before Trilogy, with two people walking around and talking the entire time. This one centres around two friends, Jay and Alex, as they discuss the ins and outs of sexuality and how they know for sure that they’re heterosexual. They go back and forth on the matter, open-minded and bantering. I think the film could’ve used just a few more minutes of dialogue and maybe a few more topics and twists, but it works well as is. Definitely worth a watch!

Honourable Mentions of 2020

I feel like there are so many films, books and shows that I wanted to review this year that I haven’t got around to for some reason or other. (Re: laziness). Oh well! I’m listing some of the ones I can remember below (and I’m sure there’s still others I’ve forgotten).

Shows: Summertime was a great show, for anyone looking for a warm and sunny show with cute romances. Set in Italy, diverse cast/rep. Curon is another good Italian show! I haven’t finished it, but the start is super strong. The Last Kingdom is soooooo amazing. I don’t know why I haven’t written up a review for this epic beauty, but it totally deserves one. Another Life is a great sci-fi adventure, with lots of diversity/rep and a solid plot. Got sci-fi queen Katee Sackhoff in it, too. Score! The Mandalorian is so absolutely brilliant, my Star Wars heart is a flutter. The Mess You Leave Behind is a fantastic Spanish murder mystery show. If you loved Élite, you’ll love this one. And Arón Piper is in it! Mismatched is the Hindi adaptation of When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. I bought the book a while back and haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I’m definitely moving it up my list! This is a super cute romantic comedy series set in Jaipur and I can’t wait to finish it. The Great was fun as well, and I really liked the cast. I also just started Bridgerton, which I’m enjoying!

Films: The new Little Women was super cute. I didn’t love it quite as much as the Winona Ryder version, but the cast is fantastic, and I liked some of the changes. I think this one would have been great as a miniseries, actually. Spending more time exploring the romance and building up to the end would have been good, I reckon, as that seemed more the focus in this version, whereas the 1990s version was more focused on the growing up aspect, I felt. I caught up on most of the Marvel movies this year and really liked some of the latest ones. The new Spiderman is great, and I’m excited for Natalie Portman’s return to Thor in the next one. I’m also intrigued by the shows coming to Disney+! I really like the idea of WandaVision. I liked Solo, the Han Solo standalone for Star Wars. All the standalones have been pretty good, actually. Happiest Season is a new Christmas film with Kristen Stewart, I have a lot of thoughts on it. Did anyone else see this one? I also can’t even begin to review Hotel Mumbai, which was a truly heart-shattering watch and the actors were amazing in their roles. I think, rather than writing a review, this look at the true story behind the film is worth a read.

Books: I write a lot of mini reviews on Goodreads that I don’t bother linking here. But my page is here, for anyone curious. All of the nonfiction books I’ve picked up this year deserve their own review. Guns, an essay by Stephen King, was very poignant and thoughtful. But having the time, or even figuring out how to describe them is so hard sometimes on top of studying. Some recommendations for anyone looking to delve into more non-fiction: The Korean War at Sixty: New Approaches to the Study of the Korean War; A Violent Peace: Race, U.S. Militarism, and Cultures of Democratization in Cold War Asia and the Pacific; Haunting the Korean Diaspora: Shame, Secrecy, and the Forgotten War; Sex Among Allies: Military Prostitution in U.S.-Korea Relations; Framed by War: Korean Children and Women at the Crossroads of Us Empire; Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World; Name, Rank, and Serial Number: Exploiting Korean War POWs at Home and Abroad.

Movie Review: Spiderman: Far From Home (2019)

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Spiderman franchise. I grew up with animated Spiderman and Toby Maguire Spiderman, and I enjoyed Andrew Garfield’s version, too. I really, really adore the new versions, though. Tom Holland suits Peter Parker best, I think, and I love what they’ve done with Peter’s relationship with Tony Stark. The father/son dynamic that they have/had going is lovely to behold. I also love the new Aunt May and the new MJ. Something about the new films just feels lighter than the other versions – and more believable as high school? I adore the other versions, but none of the actors looked young enough to be a sixteen year old Peter Parker.

This latest one takes place after Infinity War/Endgame, all of which I saw way after the fact. I actually prefer that, though. Seeing them once the hype dies down makes them much more enjoyable as you aren’t going in with far too much expectation. This one follows Peter, MJ and Ned on their class trip to Europe a few months after everyone has returned to life as normal as possible post-Avengers. Happy’s now dating May, while Nick Fury is trying to regain control of the situation in general (i.e. how to fill the Tony Stark shaped hole in everyone’s lives).

It’s on the class trip that shenanigans strike, and with them comes Mysterio, and Peter is once more dragged into the thick of things – all the while trying to profess his feelings to MJ. Poor Peter!

I thought Tom Holland was as brilliant as ever in this. You can see from the start how heavy a loss it is for Peter not to have Tony around and I seriously wish we could’ve had another movie of just them bantering. ;_;

I really liked that this film wasn’t as grand scale, for want of a better phrase, as the previous ones. Honestly, what I loved so much about Antman (2015) was how the final showdown took place on a boardgame and I liked how this one was just focusing on Peter learning how to move on with his life, struggling with confessing to MJ, his friendships with Ned and Happy, and just generally more day-to-day goings-on in the life of the Friendly Neighbourhood Spiderman. The focus on a smaller scale, more friends-and-family-drama was a welcome addition to the franchise and brought all the FEELS.

Film Review: The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)

One of my first memories is of The Nutcracker and hearing those familiar chords. I come from a household obsessed with ballet, so of course. I love the music so much; the dances are enchanting; and I’m a sucker for anything festive and snowy. I’m not Christian, but I do adore holiday films. (Let it be said that we need more Jewish holiday films!) But I digress … Also, my love of The Nutcracker is only slightly trumped by my love of Keira Knightley, so of course I wanted to watch The Nutcracker and the Four Realms – she’s the Sugar Plum Fairy!! Sign. Me. Up.

This version follows young Clara after her mother’s died and has left her an egg, but it’s locked and Clara doesn’t know what’s inside. Additionally, she and her father are at odds over her refusal to engage with daily life, but Clara’s too sad to do more than invent things in the attic with her brother. Only her sister’s suggestion that their godfather might be able to open the egg convinces her at last to join her family at the dance. There, her godfather conspires to give her the key to the egg through a gift-treasure-hunt that leads Clara from the ball into the Four Realms, a magical place where holiday toys come alive. There she meets a whole host of colourful, vibrant characters who reveal to her that her mother was once queen.

This movie is so lovely and Keira Knightley as the Sugar Plum Fairy is perfection. I do feel like it went a bit too much into the ‘we need to make this an epic action/adventure film just because’ territory, when I just wanted it to be more ballet and wonder, but it was good fun overall and definitely worth a watch over the holidays!