Friday, 29 July 2016

Disney Pixar: The Definitive Worst to Best Ranking



Disney Pixar is arguably the most consistent studio in the world of cinema, with their filmography bursting with an abundance of successful and adored films that have won the world over. From personified emotions to racing cars, monsters to superheroes and robots to toys, their inventiveness never ceases to amaze, inspire and impress. Almost every film is a critical and commercial home run and rarely do they put a foot wrong - but with so many successes, how do they compare? In preperation for their seventeenth film, Finding Dory, I have ranked their other efforts to find the ultimate winner. I must stress now, that each of these films are in their own way watchable (and enjoyable) and this was one of the most difficult lists to compile; still, I have finalised my thoughts, so let me know what you think.

Now updated with Finding Dory, awaiting the release of Cars 3

Without further ado...



17. Cars 2

Pixar's weakest is by no means a bad film - a testament to the studio's continual high-quality and originality  - but it is merely forgettable. In order to create this ranking, I needed a plot-refresher and even that wasn't quite enough for me to recall the whole thing, and never once was I compelled to watch the film again. Pixar's biggest missteps simply does not have much of a story to tell and what it does is not handled to the best of studios ability, with characters that do not connect and a paper-thin story. Whilst the production remains stunning, with thanks to the beautiful landscapes, Cars 2 is as close to a fail as Pixar has gotten.

Summary: Cars 2 is the definition of mediocre, and because of Pixar's high standards and quality, it feels even worse than that.



16. Cars

Cars 2 cannot get all the stick, because quite frankly, it's the sequel to a film that is only a shadow of what Pixar can do. Cars introduces some potentially interesting characters, most of which are completely jeopardised by the thinly-written and plotted story that never feels as natural as it should. Beautifully animated (as we always expect) but that can only distract for so long enough from the otherwise underwhelming and relatively weak film (and franchise branch). With Cars 3 coming soon, I can't say I'll be racing to the cinema, given the 'failure' of the two previous instalments.

Summary: Cars features possibly interesting and warm characters, unfortunately jeopardised by a poor story that fails to compel.



15. The Good Dinosaur

Pixar's latest, The Good Dinosaur, is the only other mis-step outside the Cars franchise mainly because it lacks the heart, emotion and humour of other offerings. The interesting premise - dinosaurs living alongside humans - has so much potential that is simply not explored as profoundly as you would hope, feeling terribly limited in the audience is targets which reflects the minor box office revenue (for those who do not know, the film became Pixar's first true 'flop' when it was released late last year).

Summary: The Good Dinosaur feels strictly for children, defying all that Pixar has worked towards, including their usual four-quadrant appeal.



14. A Bug's Life

A Bug's Life has the basics of what makes Pixar so special but given that this is just their second instalment in their filmography, the film rarely progresses past that. The characters and story both generally serves their purposes, without ever going above and beyond that. It is not as charming as it could be, or should be, and feels more squarely aimed at children, opposed to the adults that are watching it with them, and inspires little enthusiasm. Still, many other studios would hope to produce a film that is this watchable so early on in their lifetime.

Summary: A Bug's Life captures Pixar's basic magic but does not progress past that, given that it is so early on in the studio's filmography,



13. Brave

Brave defied my expectations and offered a generally inspiring and empowering film set in the Scottish Highlands. With a surprising serving of heart and deft, despite the slightly audacious mid-point twist, Brave surprised me in the messages it delivered that demonstrated the importance of family relationship and communication. While never as original or formidable as you would like or expect, the solid cast - who truly bring to life these characters - are enough to make you laugh and fall in love with them, providing an entertaining watch.

Summary: Brave summons an excellent cast and wonderful animation to combat a story that unevenly wavers between being too generic and too insanely off-key, in an otherwise inspiring tale.



12. Ratatouille

This is where it begins to get difficult, as Ratatouille is a completely enjoyable film but not as memorable as it needed to be to be further up this list. The unusual protagonist defies what one expects of a 'hero' figure and the strange pairing are really quite charming, encouraging you to engage in their challenges and hurdles they must overcome. The one thing lacking in the film though is balance - it feels more geared towards kids than adults (something Pixar usually master and balance completely)

Summary: Ratatouille is not a complete success like many of Pixar's other films, but still serves up a dish of charm and entertainment captured in the beautiful Parisian setting.




11. The Incredibles

The Incredibles power lies in its themes - the importance of family, celebrating uniqueness and unity - and crafts a tale far more enjoyable that I initially suspected. Driven by its wit, ability to have a lot of fun and humour, The Incredibles story-telling and narrative is a big charm the film has, much like the central superhero family, but loses its way a little as we approach the bombastic finale. I wanted the film to do more, and perhaps the upcoming sequel in 2019 will deliver, but it is otherwise another entertaining gem in Pixar's filmography. It is only so far down the list because of the insane competition....


Summary: The Incredibles is a whole lot of superhero fun with strong moral messages and themes at its core, but it feels like too many cooks spoil the broth (but only a little) and leaves you wanting more.





10. Monsters University

Pixar undeniably have a lot of fun with Monsters University, acting as a prequel to the original. I would happily argue that this is their most stunningly animated film to date, bursting with colour and an abundance of beauty with a plethora of old favourites and new characters who are just as compelling. It (very occasionally) ends up feeling a little repetitive and the need for the prequel is sometimes question, but if it allows us to spend more time with the lovable leading pair, who is really complaining?

Summary: Gorgeously animated with a lot of throwaway fun and fluff, Monsters University gives an impressionable backstory to Mike and Sully in a solid narrative, even if it isn't quite necessary.


9. Monsters Inc

Pixar are great at taking something completely recognisable and relatable - children's fear of the monsters under their bed - and twist it entirely on their head, bringing a whole new world to explore. Monsters Inc uses this fear to both legitimise it, and to mock it, while still managing to craft lovable characters in a narrative that could very easily been handled completely wrong; Pixar, of course, nail it and create one of the studios most popular franchises in the process.


Summary: Monsters Inc takes an intriguing and recognisable concept and creates cinema magic with it, through the lovable characters and cracking animation that populates it.



8. WALL-E


Pixar have always been known to take complex ideas and themes and present them in understandable scenarios that are more accessible by and for younger audiences; WALL-E  takes some incredibly advanced themes and forms a running social commentary on the dangers of mass consumerism, the environment, increased volume of waste, technology and religion - themes which shouldn't really work in an animated film primary for children, but Pixar really make work. It is incredibly clever, benevolent and, in a number of ways, inspiring, all of which are presented through more lovable characters from the Pixar brand.


Summary: While possible not as family-friendly, WALL-E takes some incredibly complex themes - mass consumerism, environment and waste - and beautifully brings them to live through two robots that fall in love.




7. Finding Nemo

Finding Nemo takes things back to basics after some more concept-driven adventures, and that somehow makes it more enjoyable. The beautiful ocean setting makes it one of Pixar's most stunning animations to date and also encourages reflection on the role of family - a theme typically common among Pixar's filmography - as well as the importance of identity and growing up. It spends a lot of time developing even the most minor of characters, which makes them so compelling and audience's so invested (and what encouraged a certain sequel...)


Summary: Finding Nemo mixes a whole lot of fun in the sea with poignant themes, carried by some of Pixar's most popular and loveable characters brought to life by an excellently-selected cast.



6. Toy Story 2

The Toy Story franchise is one of the most consistent trilogies in the history of cinema, and splitting the three is an almost impossible task but Toy Story 2 wound up at the bottom of that list, but still cracking the top five of the overall ranking. Expanding on the original but sticking to the successful formula, TS2 gives us more of what we love, if playing it a little bit too safe. It is still an absolute delight, thanks to the fantastic characters and cast, and if this is the franchise 'low', you can only imagine its pinnacle.


Summary: A delightful second instalment in the Toy Story franchise - that could have very easily gone wrong - Toy Story 2 gives us more of what we loved from the first film with even more likeable characters than before.

5. Finding Dory

Whilst the gorgeous animation, impressive voice cast and technical skill are all incredibly important and central to the film's overall success, it is the subtlety in its inspiring themes that make Finding Dory work so profoundly. The plethora of messages - home, identity, love, family - gives something for all the family to appreciate, and learn from, without ever feeling heavy-handed or out of place. Finding Dory is an absolute gem and, rather controversially, I prefer it to Finding Nemo.

FULL REVIEW

Summary: Finding Dory is swimming in heart, warmth and charm, with stunning animation, incredible technical skill, a solid vocal cast and a touching story, offering yet another superbly crafted film and a new jewel to wear proudly in their crown.



4. Toy Story

If it wasn't for Toy Story, the land of animation would be a completely different place today. It feels that, in a way, every nomination today has somewhat been inspired by Toy Story. Pixar's first offering was wise, skilful and developed beyond its years and introduces us to characters that have remained relevant and loveable twenty one years after the fact. A simple story, but one that revolutionised cinema, Toy Story carries so much charm that you can still feel it today.


Summary: The story that started it all (both the franchise and the studio), Toy Story revolutionised the world of animation (and cinema in general) and will hold a place in the heart of any Pixar fans.



3. Up

From the first nine minutes alone, Up manages to craft a stunning portrait of life, giving audience's a taste of the multitude of themes present in the film - love, friendship, death and regret - all of which set the heartbreaking but life-affirming story in motion. Bringing together unlikely people, tolerance and acceptance are encouraged with genuine depth and the touching relationships, especially between Carl and Ellie and Carl and Russell, presented show yet again the character-driven element Pixar always do so well, often effortless. Up is a special gift, presented with thousands of balloons.


Summary: Up soars because of its touching and profound storyline, loveable characters and stunning themes which teach of the value friendship with Pixar undoubted magic.



2. Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3 will always be remember for the truly heartbreaking and harrowing furnace scene, which reduced people of all ages to tears - only Pixar could do that. These characters hold such a place in audience's hearts that their impending death has such an impact on them; everything down to the precise and profound world and character building and development, the moving storyline and plot and the sheer investment you have in the anthropomorphic character's lives. Toy Story 3 does what no one imagined it could - keep the standard of the franchise sky-high (and in my opinion, bettered them).

Summary: Toy Story 3 somehow manages to improve on the insane success of its predecessors, crafting an emotionally-driven story with characters we truly care about, ending the near-perfect trilogy on a high note.



1. Inside Out

Fighting off all competition to claim the top spot is the impeccable Inside Out, the studio's fifteenth film and proof that the company are still on the top of their game. Beautifully animated and stunningly narrated, the film takes place in the mind of a young girl, personifying each emotion and documenting their journey in realising the importance of joy, sadness and balance, brought to life through the incredible voice cast. Balancing humour and emotion, Inside Out is a heartfelt and sincere masterclass and a true emotional rollercoaster, standing out as an absolute gem that should be at the very forefront of Pixar's well deserved crown.

FULL REVIEW (also my first ever)



Summary: Poignant, heartfelt and sincere, Disney Pixar offer a masterclass in animation and storytelling in this visually delightful return to form with one of the most human and recognised stories every told - childhood.


Be sure to let me know your favourite Pixar films - if you can decide that is! - in the comments section below and be sure to check back for my upcoming Cars 3 review.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Jason Bourne (2016) (Review)


Jason Bourne's called and he wants his series back. After the mixed to negative reception to The Bourne Legacy - the franchises' attempt to pass the baton to Jeremy Renner - Matt Damon is finally back in the titular character role, reuniting with director Paul Greengrass in their third collaboration in the espionage thriller series. Following events of Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum, Jason Bourne returns to discover the answers to his questions and to ask some more. Is this a successful revamp of the franchise or should it have been left alone, given the critical acclaim and accolades of the initial trilogy.

A missing Jason Bourne (Damon) finally resurfaces after years of hiding to a world with great instability and fragility. A new programme, Ironhand, has been launched to find him, but Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) gets to him first, offering him the answers to some old questions while giving him some new ones to consider. On the hunt for Bourne, CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and Agent Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) employ Ironhand 'Asset' (Vincent Cassel) to stop him but their opinions differ as to whether he should be brought in dead or alive.

Legacy was certainly a mis-step for the franchise; while Renner himself was watchable, it lacked the urgency and compelling nature of the previous trilogy. This time out, the returning characters are well balanced with the new introductions, which makes this - almost as passover period - work far more smoothly than Legacy ever could, or did. Damon and Greengrass use their strengths to craft an adventure that easily acts as a sequel to Ultimatum, despite the nine years time difference. Damon slots back into his role as Bourne with ease and Greengrass' directorial magic in creating a film that feels visually different to any other typical blockbuster is repeated here, grounding the film in the realism that sets it apart from its other genre entries, such as the 007 franchise. It's explosive and energised by the action scenes but sometimes the quieter moments are a welcome relief, sold well by the cast and direction of the film.

Outside the Damon and Greengrass combination, a number of interesting casting choices are made. Of the new cast, the most exciting is Alicia Vikander who, after initially feeling miscast, proves to be an excellent piece of casting eventually, managing to play the steely CIA operative, as well as the sympathetic confidant equally well. As always, she carries an intriguing and exciting screen presence and her character feels well-developed, despite not yet knowing her full motivations - she has room to grow and the final moments of the film set up her role in the theoretical sequel. Cassel is a sinister figure of the Ironhand operation, if not developed beyond what is necessary, and Lee Jones plays the shady head of the CIA in a role that echoes former players in that role. Stiles' reappearance helps pass the torch to the revamped series and sets the ball rolling for the film - giving us something old (her continual appearance through the franchise) before we get something new (new ambitions and characters).

Whether it's my cynicism or not, the film felt like a build up - an entertaining one, to be fair - to a sequel, and a lot of narrative ground feels like a retread of previous franchise plot points. We swap out one torn CIA agent for another and we are once again facing an identity crisis, while observing the themes of privacy versus public, although not as thoroughly as it could. Whether that is to ease audiences back into the returning franchise and remind them of what they've missed, it is still frustrating to watch as the Bourne franchise is the one that revitalised the very genre that it is now formulating so willingly. A number of twists - which I won't mention here as a way to remain spoiler-free - can be seen coming a mile off but the film does put up an intriguing and entertaining fight on the way to them, distracting long enough to enjoy the film for what it is - a well crafted espionage action-thriller and a welcome return for the true Bourne franchise.

Jason Bourne is an interesting entry to the franchise, and thankfully, retconning The Bourne Legacy from our memories. Whilst it does a lot of world-building for future instalments, it sets the ball rolling nicely with an even mix of old characters and new, all played by a game cast with standout performances from Vikander, and of course, Damon. Greengrass' direction crafts a realistic action-thriller adventure, even when the plot and its set pieces descend into either chaos or silliness, depending on how you look at it. Before watching the new film, I'd encourage you to rewatch the trilogy as a refresh of some plot strands that repeat again here. Jason Bourne is back to reclaim his franchise and so far, so good.

(7.5/10)

Summary: Jason Bourne is an exciting, intriguing, edge of the seat episonage thriller that is a return to the franchise's form, with a mix of new and old characters to carry the torch, even if this entry conforms to the genre conventions it set and revolutionised a little too willingly.

Highlight: The final scene is exciting in another classic Bourne move, and the return of the famous Bourne music moments before the credits start to roll is a welcome return.

    Sunday, 17 July 2016

    Ghostbusters (2016) (3D) (Review)


    Ghostbusters' all-female remake has finally arrived worldwide, on a wave of heavily-published hate, to become one of the most divisive blockbusters to ever hit cinema; in my lifetime, I have never seen a film divide people so drastically and passionately. Whilst I do question Hollywood's continuous need to remake existing properties, this is a revival I can firmly support as it is in undeniably talented hands (see my love for Melissa McCarthy, here) and opens the franchise up to a new generation. The 2016 remake stars McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones and is a test, not only for the franchise and for standing up to the vulgar and brutal comments, but for female-led blockbusters.

    Primed at the ready for a whole new generation, Ghostbusters introduces Abby Yates (McCarthy) and Erin Gilbert (Wiig) as scientist and authors of a book on paranormal phenomenons such as ghosts. When they speak for the first time in years, a reporting comes in and alongside Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon), they investigate. When further sightings are reported by Patty Tolan (Jones), who later joins their team, the 'ghostbusters' are the ones to answer the call, as many others try to hide the conspiracy, and they must attempt to save New York when the ghosts from across time are released into the streets. As well as cameos from a number of the original cast, Chris Hemsworth is the other prominent member of the reimagined group as dimwitted receptionist Kevin Beckman.

    2016s revival is a concession of a number of genres that keeps the film continually exciting and engaging throughout; comedy, (supernatural) horror and elements of action are all present in the film which means the film has something for everyone, no matter age, gender or outlook on the prospect of the remake. The key piece of the entire film, however, is the cast and I am thrilled to report that they are absolutely stellar choices; the four leads carry an incredible dynamic throughout, built over the course of the film and they willingly carry the torch as a tight, cohesive unit where each have their own role to play in the team. One of the most excellent things about it is that no one really outshines the others; whilst I am paticularly fond of McCarthy, no one steals the limelight from anyone else and each have their own figurative moment to shine, especially during the climatic final act. Aside from the four leads, Hemsworth is also genuinely amusing as Kevin and takes some of the films biggest laugh-out-loud moments.

    Visually, the film is also an absolute treat. Drenched in colour and with some impressively slick special effects, colour seeps through the screen with abundance and the 3D conversion is particularly strong in bringing to life the climatic scene in New York with the ghosts coming out from left, right and centre. Director Feig's gifted filmmaking ability ensures that the film is bright and loud and everything that a summer blockbuster should be, with 'Ghostbusters' standing out from a relatively weak bunch (particularly this uninspiring mid-summer stretch); yes, the special effects can be too-animated on occasions and perhaps lack some sophistication, but that's more than likely due to the actual design of the ghosts and the four-quadrant targeted appeal of the release. When sparks fly, the film really excels and the visuals help inject the film with colour, exuberance and the essence of a fun summer blockbuster.

    It has been well-documented that the film has run into difficulty regarding the reception from the general public and that sense of carrying the weight of the franchise on its shoulder prevents the film from truly capturing its own identity. This, being a remake, isn't so much of a problem but the storyline occasionally feels a little uninspired and the middle act spends too long setting up what is going to happen that it loses a little momentum heading for the final act, which really recaptures the energy and excitement of earlier scenes. In terms of the comedy, considering the talent involved, it deserved to be more consistent, but juggling so many genres and the limited PG-13 (12A) certification, compared to McCarthy and Feig's usual R (15) rating, its understandable that the comedy may have needed to tone down and take a step back to appeal to everyone, especially when the $144 million production budget is taken into account (which may be the film's Achilles heel)*.

    Ghostbusters succeeds mainly because it is so much fun, all of which is captured by the incredible cast, who bring so much excitement and life to it. It's as feel-good as comedies come now a day, interrupted by a few genuine scares every now and then. (*) Daringly progressive and revamped in a way that could pave the way for more female-led blockbusters over the coming years, the film has a lot at stake and I am truly championing it to succeed, critically and commercially. I urge people to go and check it out on the biggest screen possible as the gratifying effects really need to be experienced in the biggest way possible to truly capture the films supernatural magic and bundles of fun it has to offer. Don't let the naysayers put you off pure entertainment and breezy enjoyment this summer.

    In a rather underwhelming summer blockbuster season, Ghostbusters stands out because it is so much fun, and sometimes, that is all you need in a film.

    (REVISED - 9/10)
    (ORIGINAL - 8/10)

    Summary: Ghostbusters is a success thanks to the incredibly dynamic and exciting four female leads who revitalise the franchise and bring new life and a new generation to it, furthered by the visual effects and magic it is all presented through.

    Highlight: The Ghostbusters theme tune was used incredibly well to score some of the most important moments of the film including the first reveal of the car and the final act fight scene, which includes some of my favourite moments of the piece.

    Update: I watched the film for a second time and I have to say that - it was even better! I was so concerned about not liking the film the first time that it stopped me truly enjoying the experience. Being able to let that go and just enjoy the film increased my love for the film. As such, I've increased my rating for it too.

    Saturday, 16 July 2016

    Melissa McCarthy's Comedy Film Ranking


    Melissa McCarthy is probably my favourite comedy actor/actress in the industry; everything from her timing to her improv is very often absolutely hilarious and never short of a small chuckle - whatever film I have seen her in, the laughs come quick and fast, and even on the occasion where her full potential isn't quite met, I'm still happy to watch her give it her all for her performances.

    In prepration for Ghostbusters, which I hope to watch and review over the weekend, I've rewatched McCarthy's six latest big studio releases and attempted to rank them with some coherency and logic, based on how enjoyable, funny and memorable they are. It's a difficult task, because even the 'weakest' is definitely watchable, but be sure to let me know whether you agree and your own ranking of the films.



    6. Tammy

    Certainly not a terrible film, Tammy has moments of absolute promise and potential (most notably, Tammy's hilarious siege of the burger restaurant, which McCarthy absolutely sells for every penny its worth, as well as the opening sequence). As with each and every film with her name in light, she is the life and soul of the party, unwavering in her 'give it all you've got' approach which rarely goes unnoticed. Sarah Baker as Becky is another hilarious addition in just a fleeting few appearances and I would love to see the two act alongside each other again in the future.

    Aside from McCarthy's general hilarity, Tammy has very little to offer in terms of plot, character or originality and very conventionally takes the 'road trip' narrative that holds little weight throughout. It feels very much like the film is simply a vehicle to move from set piece to set piece, which in themselves aren't as sharp and witty as I have come to expect. It's very jumbled and lacks coherency

    Summary: Tammy is jumbled and lacks coherency but Melissa McCarthy proves that she can just about save any movie with her engaging screen presence and general hilarity.

    (5/10)



    5. Identity Thief

    Despite generally terrible reviews, I thought Identity Thief was an absolute chuckle from start to finish, and right next to the continual comedy was a surprising sense of heart and emotion. Yes, it is completely and utterly over the top but McCarthy and Jason Bateman's chemistry win the day. It's McCarthy's pathos she brings to Diana that sets this star vehicle out from the countless other comedies, playing out the physical comedy equally as strongly as the emotional heft of the pairs dinner table honestly and eventual escape as we near the end of the film.

    The film does run into problems in terms of the supposed 'villains' of the piece who are pretty much unneeded and it always feels like one too many - the two co-stars could perfectly handle the entire film on their own - and its always frustrating not having the pair on screen. The highlights come thick and fast from the use of Cher Lloyd's Swagger Jagger as Diana waltzes out of the hairdressers to the pair stopping for dinner at a motel and creating an utterly unbelievable story to the waitress.

    Summary: Identity Thief is a hilarious film with a surprising sense of emotion, sparked by McCarthy and Bateman's sensational chemistry but the film really lacks when they are off screen for too long.

    (7.5/10)





     4. The Heat

    McCarthy's foul-mothered Mullins and Sandra Bullock's uptight Ashburn eventually work as a fantastic team, solidified by the sensational chemistry between the pair that becomes the film's true selling point. This buddy comedy once again balances comedy with real, human, emotional stakes and employs a sense of urgency that encourages us to invest in these characters and their lives.

    Fuelled by a number of interesting set pieces and set ups, the film caught lightning in a bottle in deciding the two leads, who make an interesting and engaging dynamic by being so polar opposite; the co-stars are pretty much a match made in comedic heaven and truly work in contrasting the other and striking the perfect balance. They are, however, at their best when they are allowed to improv, marked by a montage mid-way through where the two head to a shady bar and dance all night. It is also refreshing to see an R-Rated/15 certified trailer than embraces its more gruesome moments and feels like comedy going down its own path. It may be a little foul-mouthed for some but the majority will see this as a rip-roaring success.

    Summary: The Heat is entirely successful based off the excellent chemistry between McCarthy and Bullock, which scores laugh after laugh despite its potentially formulaic premise of mis-matched cops.

    (8/10)


    3. Bridemaids

    This is a comedy based more on the ensemble, but one woman steals the show with some McCarthy magic. Everything she did was absolutely incredible and hilarious and we owe it to the film for making her the breakout star she is, but McCarthy's Megan simply does not feature enough. I understand fully that she is simply designed and intended as a supporting character but stealing the scene in everyone she is in, only causes us to anticipate her next appearance. Maybe more frequent appearances would push it one or two more spots higher...

    The ensemble cast is generally very strong - Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Bryne, Wendi McLendon-Covey and Elle Kemper - all make an excellent team, with the incredible dynamics between each of them explored throughout but stealing the show when you arguably shouldn't makes us invest a little less in the central storyline (while still entertaining, it leans a little far towards the 'romantic' side for me - but then again, if the title didn't give it away...). Particularly standout moments of the film include Megan stealing all the puppies, the airplane scene using everyone to the best of their abilities, Megan taking the girls to that restaurant and the ensuing bridal store apocalypse... So so many hilarious moments.

    Summary: Bridesmaid's ensemble is unwaveringly strong but Melissa McCarthy's Megan steals the show and is arguably the actresses' strongest and most lovable character to date.

    (8/10)




    2. The Boss

    This may surprise a lot of people, as the film opened earlier this year to a poor reception and weaker (than usual) box office receipts, but I truly found it hilarious. Bearing in mind I have only watched it once so far, weeks later I still find myself chuckling over various moments in script and even when it wasn't scoring belly laughs, it more than certainly did enough to make you smile and enjoy yourself. Relentless in her delivery, Michelle Darnell was brought to life entirely by the star and while I do question the film's success without her, it is thankfully, not a thought we had to dwell on too hard.

    Various set pieces worked better than others and while the final act was bogged down a little in unneeded emotional stakes that is rarely as compelling as Darnell self-tanning or taking down a mob of children, it remains a relatively light-hearted comedy and another glorious character to add to McCarthy's growing CV.

    FULL REVIEW

    Summary: Melissa McCarthy is absolutely The Boss, adding another notch to her belt of impressive comedy and hilarious characters, registering in the higher end of her filmography, despite what reviewers would make you believe.

    (8/10)



    1. Spy

    I say this completely honestly - I don't think I stopped laughing throughout Spy. McCarthy and director Paul Feig have always proven to be such a stellar and consistent team throughout their work together but this time they have added a whole collection of amusing people to really emphasise their efforts. It's a culmination of the spy genre and the comedy genre and works equally as well whichever way you look at it, spoofing the former without over-egging the latter. The hilarious comedy is willingly balanced by some of the scripts more touching moments and the subtle and profound message is quite a revelation.

    Miranda Hart, Jude Law and Rose Bryne are particularly enjoyable additions to the McCarthy-Feig duo but this is most certainly a showcase for the main star and gives her a shot at more physical comedy, which she truly excels at. Helped by the ricocheting setting, the film feels incredibly fresh and exciting all the way through and like nothing we have seen before, setting a new benchmark for comedy. If one of these films calls out for a sequel, it is most certainly this one (but I would not be opposed to a Megan Bridesmaids spin-off...)

    FULL REVIEW


    Summary: Uproariously funny and a brilliant showcase of Melissa McCarthy's talent, Spy is one of her strongest offerings to date and certainly the most hilarious comedy of 2015, uniting two genres in a unified piece that works incredibly well by being consistently funny and enjoyable.

    ★★★★★★★★★✬ 
    (9.5/10)


    Soon enough, I will know how Ghostbuster shapes up against these offerings but if it is anything like what we have come to know - especially of the McCarthy-Feig collaboration - we really are in for a treat with the remake. As we can see, Melissa McCarthy is building quite the reputable comedy filmography and I cannot wait to see 'busters and beyond.

    This list is subject to change, of course, (the middle section could have literally gone in any order and I changed it multiple times during the write up of this list) so be sure to let me know how you rank them in the comment section below, and pop back for the GB review in the coming days.

    Sunday, 10 July 2016

    Now You See Me 2 (2016) (Review)


    Now You See Me 2 or Now You See Me: The Second Act (which are both largely underwhelming and uninspired titles when they were sitting on comedy gold with 'Now You Don't) is the sequel to 2013s Now You See Me, a sleeper hit with slowly but surely became Lionsgate's biggest offering outside The Hunger Games franchise (as well as the final Twilight film). The sequel was a given considering the success of the original and reunites most of the original cast - Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman - while switching out Isla Fisher for Lizzy Caplan and adding Daniel Radcliffe for some extra magic. It finally dropped this week in the UK after moderate success and mixed to negative reviews, but did the trick work twice?

    With the three remaining members of the Four Horsemen - Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Harrelson) and Jack Wilder (Franco) - in hiding and awaiting instructions from 'The Eye'. Joined by Lula May (Caplan) - replacing  they are assigned a mission by FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Ruffalo), the fifth member: exposing corrupt businessman Owen Case who possess software to steal data of its mobile users. With the heist interrupted by mysterious individuals and hijacked by FBI agents, the Four Horsemen attempt to flee but find themselves at the mercy of Chase McKinney (also played by Harrelson) and Walter Mabry (Radcliffe), who offers them an ultimatum. Meanwhile, Rhodes is approached by Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman), who offers to help expose the masterminds behind the plan.

    What we have is a pretty game cast with a strong dynamic; Harrelson once again brings a dry sense of humour and wit to his character(s), and whilst his multi-role playing is no Orphan Black, it's strong enough to give a 'what the hell' moment when the second version of him turns up, unannounced and with little signal. Franco is charming and likeable as Wilder and carries an infectious energy throughout the film (A.K.A. I'm glad he didn't stay dead in the first film). Caplan is a joyous addition to the cast and brings more humour that expected, never taking herself to seriously while remaining striking and sophisticated with a real breeze. Radcliffe is another strong addition as the film's evil while, thankfully, it would seem that Freeman and Caine didn't simply returning for the paycheque. Eisenberg is a little bit of a killjoy but I will put that down to the character's goals in the first act than the actor himself. Whilst these elements and performances are strong individual, they somehow work even stronger as an ensemble, where the individual's successes and traits work even better when part of the whole, creating a fun dynamic to play with throughout the film (evident in the extensive 'card switch' scene).

    Jon M. Chu takes the directorial reins and perhaps its his is ethnic background that inspires a large chunk of the film taking place in China. This not only helps set the film apart from other theatrical offerings but introduces us to a different and less traditional place seen on screen (although it is becoming more frequent in itself). Having it situated in China almost entirely for the middle act really helps structure the film, as we move from America and to Britain for the first and final acts, respectively. It is intrugingly shot throughout, from the aforementioned card switch scene to the final reveal scene (which in itself is truly satisfying as we track the hows and the whys of the tricks), with camera trickery really encouraging your immersion in the film - it is definitely a film where you must suspend your disbelief to truly enjoy - all of which is encouraged under Chu's direction.

    The film tries so hard to be clever that is often finds itself written into corners that it then has to quickly undo, or try to shock you with another twist so you are distracted long enough to forget. I am undecided whether it was just me or not (so be sure to leave your opinion in the comment section below), the film appeared to be working towards one conclusion that never materialises, which needs an even bigger, unnecessary and ill-conceived twist to write themselves out of it. This leads to the overall sense that everything and the kitchen sink has been thrown at this film, with too many ideas floating around for it to feel seamless. Still, I would prefer that than something that felt undercooked and underdeveloped and the film rarely wavers in entertainment value and excitement. Even with these flaws, the illusions and trickery can distract long enough for them to feel (at least somewhat) ironed out; it just depends on your acceptance of this element as to whether you enjoy the film or not.

    With a mix of twists and turns, you more than often miss the obvious in these films, which is often its biggest advantage; you never really know what to expect because the obvious is usually so much more than that. And on top of that, its not knowing that one character will escape a reinforced steel safe submerged in water, but its wanting to know 'how' that keeps you so engaged in the film. Yes, the phrase 'style over substance' occasionally comes to mind, but this is an example of a film where that is not too much of a problem if you can accept it early on. You cannot waste your time running round in circles, thinking about the ins and outs of this film, as you will end up feeling redundant to the film, I just urge you to go into this film expecting nothing but fun and games - the trick here is all in your expectations.

    Summary: Now You See Me 2 improves greatly on the original, embracing its implausibility and running with it, conjuring an enjoyable, fun and silly outing bolstered by the impressive casting and sheer number of twists and turns.

    Highlight: The impressive cast dynamics - Franco and Caplan really impressed me, especially - and the twists and turns that lead guessing and predicting what will come next into a nightmare..

    (6/10)


    Wednesday, 6 July 2016

    Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (2016) (Review)


    I can confess that as I stepped into the cinema to watch Jennifer Saunders' Absolute Fabulous: The Movie, I hadn't seen a single minute of the television show that was now making the transition to big screen. It has earned cult status since its premiere in 1992 and, despite not airing a full season for over a decade, has continued to hold quite the legacy thanks to several repeats and the continued popularity of its two leads - Saunders and Joanna Lumley. Depending on who you ask and to what regard they hold the series in, the film's big screen outing has received mixed review, but how about from someone watching the film as an original property?

    The film centres on Edina Monsoon (Saunders) and Patsy Stones (Lumley) who are forced to go on the run after Kate Moss, who they approached for a PR gig, falls off a yacht and goes missing, with all heads turning to the pair being responsible for her believed death. From there, they must go on the run to continue to fund their luxurious lifestyle and escape the police, all while upsetting the Monsoon family and bringing disgrace to their brand. The original cast all return (such as Julia Sawalha, June Whitfield, Jane Horrocks, Kathy Burke and Celia Imrie), alongside a plethora of celebrity guest cameos. With so many names taking part in the film, surely it can't be that bad?

    It's the abundance of stars (or C-Listers that partially-qualify) that helps move the action and film along at a relatively snappy pace. It's slender 91 minute runtime prevents the film feeling over bloated or unnecessarily inflated and the number of recognisable faces also speeds proceedings along and creates a mad game of 'how many faces can you name' - I looked on Wikipedia after and we are looking at, at the very least, four dozen. Some of the more successful appearances come from the likes of Rebel Wilson, Dawn French and Gwendoline Christie, and whether you can name them or not, the sheer number of appearances reinforces the world of prestige and sophistication that Patsy and Edina are renown for.

    Despite the profusion of cameos, this is still Saunders and Lumley's show. Both are great, fun and refuse to take themselves too seriously, but Lumley steals the show; she brings a multitude of zest and excitement to the role that can help distract from the clunky material. They have such a flourishing dynamic that it is often the moments where only the two feature that works the best. That said, Sawalha handles the more emotional aspect of the film relatively well and helps make the moment in which she karaokes with a room full of drag queens even more humourous while Whitfiled is sorely underused and nothing short of a giggle in each of her appearances scattered unevenly throughout the film. Imrie is another one that could be further developed, and while I do not know her usage and character throughout the television series, I feel so much more could be achieved with her, after she seemingly disappears following the first act of the film.

    Performances aside, I'm not entirely convinced the move from small screen to big screen was worth it. The narrative is very thin and seems to simply act as a vehicle to alternate between set pieces and locations and an excuse to visit the South of France (which admittedly allows some beautiful shots of the stunning area). What it lacks in plot, it struggle in terms of comedy, as although I will admit I did chuckle a few times and I was smiling throughout, its pretty much absent of the real belly-laughs I was really hoping for. Comedy is such a subjective and divisive genre and what works for some, won't for others (that's completely okay - I loved The Boss and others hated it) but I really hoped this would pull it out the bag; I had no idea of the 'type' of humour AbFab was - down to my own ignorance, more than likely - but the film hasn't convinced me to give the series a try unfortunately.

    Don't get me wrong, Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie is watchable, and in places, enjoyable film. You cannot argue that is is entertaining but a film perhaps suited to a made-for-television release opposed to a theatrical run (similar to last year's The Lady in The Van, although I look back on that film feeling that I was too harsh in my judgement and I have warmed to it on successive viewings). I'm sure it will please fans seeing Edina and Patsy back together but I'm unsure whether it was needed or executed to the best of its ability, knowing the talent involved, if not the series or characters. Maybe this would be better on television, in the form of a few specials, as it doesn't quite warrant a cinema visit to the non-fans (but hey, we should always try and support our British Film industry so I won't promote my opinion too loudly).

    (5/10)

    Summary: Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie is watchable and, in places, enjoyable thanks to the solid cast performances and cameos that come in abundance, but lacks the humour and necessity to drive the television series to the big screen in the first place.

    Highlight: Rebel Wilson's cameo was the best of the bunch (but maybe just because I am a fan) and Lumley is nothing but a chuckle throughout, really throwing herself into it.



    Monday, 4 July 2016

    The Secret Life of Pets (2016) (Review)


    The Secret Life of Pets has been buzzing around for a while now. I recall seeing a teaser for it a year ago, when Disney Pixar's Inside Out was first released and it has since been in the back of my mind as a film I must check out. Finally, just a matter of days before its North American release, I managed to rush to a packed screening to see whether the hype lived up to the final product. It's a premise that offers an abundance of potential and a wide audience to engage, with the writings suggesting that Illumination (Minions, Despicable Me) have a huge hit on their hands, what with the wide appeal of the story.

    Jack Russell Terrier Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) is upset when his owner/soulmate Katie (Ellie Kemper) brings home Duke (Eric Stonestreet) a Newfoundland, a larger and reckless dog who Katie has adopted. Their relationship gets off to a rocky start but when the two are captured by Animal Control and must make their way alone through New York, eventually uniting and fighting their way back home to Katie. Along the way, they encounter the devious Snowball (Kevin Hart) and the Flushed Pets who launch an attack against domestics, while Gidget (Jenny Slate) begins searching for Max, the lover of her life, with the help of animal friends of all shapes and sizes. If bells are ringing, it bears some similarities to the Toy Story franchise with the anthropomorphised characters and human characteristics but it just about manages to set itself a part.

    The opening few minutes acquaint us with both the pets of the tale - all living with respective owners in a New York block of flats - and the city itself, which helps give the film true identity. This may seem like something irrelevant but by spending these first few minutes offering sweeping shots and montages of the pets and the city really contextualises the film, solidly building characters before we are thrust into the adventure with them. Introducing the pets in their own homes, with their own personalities and owners, help flesh out these characters well enough to support the 91 minute run time, which is brief and snappy and exactly how a family friend animation like this should be. It might tread the same narrative ground repeatedly but we are introduced to enough characters to keep it lively, fresh, and most importantly, exciting, getting whisked away in the adventure of the furry friends (and enemies). It's well-defined by bright and vivid animation, eye-popping colour and detail (even if this proves rather self-referential at times) and charm, mainly through the notion of calling to every pet owner who recognise their own pet through the variety of characters.

    The character, although many are painted with broad strokes, are brought to life and characterised by the impressive and talented voice cast, all well selected in reflecting their character traits. Voice casts are never given quite enough credit in animation films, but honestly, they can make or break it and everyone in Pets is impressive. Hart appears to be having so much fun as the haywire villain Snowball and appears to be the only name-above-the-poster name; the rest are relatively conspicuous. A lot of the time, I find not immediately recognising a voice performance in a film more immersive. The whole cast work very well as an ensemble and in embodying the character's personality, ticking a big box in the animation checklist.

    But, like with many animations, comparisons are its downfall and unfortunately for this one, it's competing with a studio renown for its quality. Pets, whilst funny and enjoyable in stretches, does not have the humourous edge that make Pixar films so enjoyable for adults as well as children; it almost completely aims for children, which isn't a problem, but Pixar has so excellently struck a balance that Pets doesn't ooze the same confidence in appealing to the masses. As previously discussed, the film is almost a remake of Toy Story, with a little bit of Zootropolis thrown in for good measure; those are two of the biggest animated films ever but we have a sense of being here before, lacking that originality in a summer full to the brim with animated offerings. Don't get me wrong, there is enough to be entertained with in this film, but on a more critical level, the similarities are too evident and the comparisons a little bit too easily made.

    The Secret Life of Pets is an enjoyable tale with an interesting premise and whilst it doesn't perhaps fulfil everything one would hope for, it sets Illumination Entertainment on the right track. It is a concept with a infinite line of inspiration and directions to go, should this become the breakout smash I suspect it will. It has a lot to learn but that should come with the studio's progression and will to try new things and stand out from the animated crowd. It's certainly not ground-breaking or original in any way, but it may lead to the next big animation house breaking through.

    (7/10)

    (I took half a point off because I had to sit through a Minion short film)

    Summary: The Secret Life of Pets is an accomplished and enjoyable insight into the lives of our pets, offering a premise that packs potential, even if it is not quite as sophisticated and balanced as its animated counterparts.

    Highlight: The opening and closing montage of the owners with their pets works incredibly well and celebrates the bond we share with our own pets.

    Friday, 1 July 2016

    Orphan Black's Top Ten Episodes (Season 1-4 Edition)


    Just two weeks after Orphan Black's fourth season wrapped up (which I have already reviewed and analysed), I have rewatched the whole series and decided upon my favourite ten (or twelve) episodes from the 40 episodes to date. I don't need to tell you that it was quite the task narrowing it down; my first draft of the list had 23 episodes which I then whittled down to 19. After careful consideration - also known as going back to watch them all again - and after a little bit of cheating, I have finalised my favourite episodes and given a few lines as to why they made it onto the list. First, a brief moment for those who didn't make it...

    Notable Runners-Up:
    Entangled Banks (1.8), Endless Forms Most Beautiful (1.10), Nature Under Constraint and Vexed (2.1), Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est (2.5), Knowledge of Causes, and Secret Motion of Things (2.7), From Instinct to Rational Control (4.4), Human Raw Material (4.5) and The Mitigation of Competition (4.9).



    10. Natural Selection/Instinct (1.1 & 1.2)

    It's ironic that a countdown of the best episodes of Orphan Black starts with the opening two episodes that kicked off the journey. Working best as a two-parter, the pair of episodes had a challenge on their hands in setting the tone for the entire series. It generally succeeds with executing the intriguing premise with such mystery and ambiguity that has kept us coming back for all these years. While it is not quite as sharp as the material we have come to know and love from Orphan Black, it sets a very high standard for the rest of the series to run with. That very first meeting of Sarah, Cosima and Alison is enough to make any casual viewer heartily invest in the show and immerse themselves in the unfolding mystery. An excellent introduction to the show, setting the bar high for the adventures to come.



    9. From Dancing Mice to Psychopaths (4.10)

    And from the first episode, to the latest, season's four season finale may feel sporadic in places but maintains a certain level of intensity throughout and puts us in a position where we genuinely do not know who is going to make it out alive - it's a bold move that we have never seen before, as although Orphan Black is renowned for its cliffhangers, we have never had a season end with quite so much at stake. Rachel's speech to the board is one of the most chilling things the series has produced, matched in intensity by her showdown with Sarah where Orphan Black's television magic is used to the best of its abilities and Delphine's near-death revisit pays off wonderfully and in a satisfying manner. Whilst I lament the episode for sidetracking Helena and Alison so drastically, it really allows us time to focus on Sarah, Cosima and Rachel - with another welcomed appearance from Krystal that gives us the best clone swap of the season. Delphine and Cosima's reunion is heartwarming and stunningly shot and is part of the reason the episode is so impressive: the wide range of emotions encompassed, and the ground the episode covers in just 45 minutes, is nothing short of incredible.



    8. Ruthless in Purpose, and Insidious in Method (3.8)

    While Season 3 was generally quite capricious in quality - and the most underwhelming season to date - it had four shining episodes (the most of any on this list!) that saved it from being totally disappointing. Episode 8 is the first of such on this list and features the incredible introduction of Krystal Goderitch, after seeing a fleeting glimpse of her in the season's premiere episode, as a new LEDA clone like nothing we have seen before. It feels faster in pace and development than the majority of the season and removing Rachel from DYAD really gives the season that bolt to the finish, setting up the final two episodes nicely. A standout of the episode is Delphine and Cosima's meeting: they cannot be together but it is clear as anything that they still love each other. The Shay sting is heartbreaking but leaves a lot on the line for the following episode and her loyalty is greatly scrutinised. Exploring the notion as to whether the clones are safer in or out of 'the know' is most welcomed and the episode also marks the birth of one of our favourite pairings - Helena and Donnie.



    7. The Weight of This Combination (3.1)

    Season 3 kicked off to an incredible start with the season premiere. Although it couldn't keep up the momentum for the first half of the season, the episode introduced some incredible new dynamics for us to look at. Sarah playing Rachel interacting with Alison playing Sarah took the clone swap to a whole new level and was an absolute highlight of the episode, alongside the devastating Delphine/Cosima break up and the introduction of the ominous Ferdinand. Helena's dream sequence at the beginning of the episode is so vivid and drenched in paste candy colours acts as a wonderful way to constant the depressing state and darkness she finds herself in just moments later at the Castor camp; it is just one of the incredible ways this series plays to its strengths. The episode started the season with so much promise and the fact that the following episodes couldn't quite match up to it doesn't tarnish its brilliance.



    6. Governed As if it Were By Chance (2.4)

    I'd been amazed by Orphan Black long before this point, but never quite to the same degree as when Helena and Sarah meet again, after Sarah believed she had killed Helena at the end of the first season, and Helena proceeds to hug Sarah, instead of kill her as one would initially believe. The episode seamlessly counteracts the darker tones of this moment and Sarah's torture with the beginning of Alison's hilarious stint in rehab. We also get a small insight into the Sarah's backstory while at the very same time putting her in the most vulnerable position yet, following her run in with Daniel.  It's an example of excellent pacing, both in terms of the singular episode and the entire season - an element that made the second season work so well.



    5. History Yet To Be Written (3.10)

    The second half of season three was thankfully stronger and more consistent than the exhausting first half, capped off nicely by the satisfying finale History Yet To Be Written, which wraps up a number of loose ends that caused the season to drag, and thankfully puts them to bed; Castor were all but wiped out, DYAD was defunct and we ended on a season finale that finally gave (most of) our clones some peace - a welcomed change to the high-intensity in the thirty episodes leading up to the moments Kira is embraced in Sarah's arms at the end of the episode, ending on a completely stunning and poetic shot of the two.

    It also delivered one of my favourite scenes in the show's history: the Clone Club Dinner Party scene puts all the major players in one room, together and united, for the first time in the show's history and the mind-blowing premise and execution of the show's multi clone scenes steps up to its highest notch to date. It is beautiful seeing the clones interact with respective partners (both family and friends) in Bubbles, which leads to another special moment; Cosima and Delphine's meeting outside the shop, where both sense that something is coming; it is truly agonising but beautifully performed by both and Delphine's subsequent shooting is the finale's biggest question mark. An incredibly strong conclusion to the show's weaker season.



    4. Things Which Have Never Yet Been Done/By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried (2.9 & 2.10)

    I'll hold my hands up here and admit that this is another cheat on the list, but the final two episodes of season two work so well together I simply couldn't split them. Whether it's the dramatic moment Rachel, playing Sarah, plucks Kira and injects Felix at the end of episode nine, or Sarah's attack on Rachel after smashing Kira's stem cells and delaying the cure in the finale, it is full to the brim of so many exciting action beats that it feels unwaveringly snappy and intense from the beginning until the end.

    It's a lesson in edge-of-your-seat television. Watching Rachel deteriorate to her lowest, most desperate state is perfectly performed by Maslany, as she snatches Kira to regain the childhood that she lost, after she sits watching tapes of her and the parents that rarely loved her. Later, when she watches her father kill himself, we are once again reminded how Rachel has, in a way, turned everyone against her by her own reckoning and ascendant to power in these incredibly intense scenes Heck, even one of the lighter moments of the episode - the famous Clone Dance Party, where all four of the major clones unite for the first time - feels like we are simply sitting on a ticking bomb, worried for Cosima's health, demonstrating just the intensity this show is built on. It sets up a number of interesting ideas for the following season - Helena's kidnapping, Cosima's turn for the worse and Rachel's eyeball pierced with a pencil - while working seamlessly in wrapping up some season strands. An excellent and exciting Orphan Black two-parter.



    3. The Collapse of Nature (4.1)

    Setting the first episode of the fourth season before the events of the first episode of the first season is a risk very few could pull off; Orphan Black not only pulls it off - timing it perfectly to set the tone and narrative for much of season four - but does so pretty faultlessly, informing us of the doomed Beth Childs and the danger she got herself into that led to her death in the pilot episode, beyond that from which we already understanding through Sarah's eyes. Plus, giving the episode (almost) entirely to Beth is a testament to the complexity of her character.

    Her scene with Paul is the most damaging of the whole episode, revealing each of their own demons while never victimising one over the other. Beth's infertility renders her to feel useless while Paul realises he cannot give her what she wants. It is a deeply affecting moment and one of the biggest revelations of the season. The scene is which we finally learn the truth behind Maggie Chen's accidental death, clarifying elements of Beth's story that have loomed over us until this point. Whilst filling in a number of blanks we have, it also gives us room for thought and maps out the upcoming narrative.

    Knowing the outcome of her story makes it all the more tragic and you hold a sense of longing for her happiness when you full well know it cannot be. It is beyond effective and sobering for audiences who have watched figments and imaginations of Beth, but seen nothing more than her face seconds before stepping in front of the train. Tatiana Maslany gives a nuanced performance, as ever, in this episode: we can immediately tell the difference between Sarah's version of Beth, the Beth before the shooting and the Beth after the shooting, with such subtlety that it may be unnoticed to the untrained Orphan Black eye, but for fans it is incredibly illuminating, after all this time, knowing and understanding the real Beth Childs.


    2. Certain Agony on the Battlefield (3.6)

    Just when I thought the third season was down and out after a sluggish first half, Orphan Black pulled out their most impressive episode to date, changing the course of the season (for the greater good) and the show (with an emotional gut punch). Held captivate at Castor's base camp and abandoned by Helena, Sarah hallucinates Beth in a beautiful scene that parallels her final moments and gives the season that drive, determination and finally, urgency, that was previously lacking. Beth is a far more complexed character than we realise, all of which is epitomised in the most beautiful quote of the show - "we do terrible things for the people that we love. Stop asking why and start asking who". If this meeting of Sarah and Beth inspired the fourth season's premiere episode (as previously discussed), we have even more to thank this episode for.

    We also say goodbye to Paul, a character we have journeyed with from the beginning of the show, as he goes out all guns blazing protecting Sarah. His "It was never Beth I loved" is both heartbreaking and affirmative, realising that despite his shady connections, he was truly doing it for the sisters, and most importantly, Sarah and in Beth's memory. It is a painful goodbye, furthered by the heartbreaking montage with him and Beth, before the conspiracies began and shows the just the cost that sisters have had to pay to go down the rabbit hole. Another heartbreaking moment, but perhaps not for the same reason, is Rachel's breakdown. Despite the hatred this character oozes, when she breaks down as a prisoner to DYAD and after Felix declares that no one is coming because nobody cares or loves her, one cannot help but truly feel for this character and it adds complexity to her, beyond being the villainous pro-clone we have come to know her as; we see emotion and this type of character building is a revelation so far in to the show.

    Alison and Donnie twerking as cash flies in the air is a truly hilarious moment that adds much needed levity to the darkness of the episode and Helena's return to save Sarah offers some light and hope to their sisterhood as we move forward, finally at a more urgent rate. The excellency in this episode is through its ability to expand storylines as well as propels them forward, managing to check in with our four main clones without the episode ever feeling overstuffed; my one criticism with this show is it can occasionally lose sight of some clones (understandbly, to ease Maslany's workload) but this episode manages to juggle them simultaneously and it really works.



    1. The Scandal of Altruism (4.6)

    The Scandal of Altruism is Orphan Black at its very best. Despite clocking in at just past the half-way mark of an already astonishing season, this is the biggest non-finale episode of a show I have ever seen and changes the whole series landscape with the revelations and loses. Six episodes in, the season's big bad finally rears its ugly head and take Kendall Malone to her death, who not only serves as Leda's cure but their family too. It's an incredibly risky decision - to rip down everything the show has worked towards in just 45 minutes - but the payoff is grand in the most thrilling, tense and harrowing 45 minutes of television I have ever seen.

    Tatiana Maslany, unsurprisingly, is absolutely incredible; I've spoken about it on my season four analysis and review, but her performance as Cosima, breaking down having watched her original and cure go up in flames and being told that her soulmate was murdered, is enough to reduce you to tears, as is her conversation with Kendall (played by the sensational Alison Steadman) and one of the most powerful moments in the show's history. As Sarah, she transitions from grit and determination to sorrow and devastation at the realisation that her fatal decision has cost them everything and as Beth we see those final steps in the direction of the trainstation and that she killed herself for her sister's safety - the ultimate sacrifice. For an episode that centralises on family and sacrifices, both entities have seemingly failed and the clones are left surveying their destruction. It also worth noting the incredible performances from the supporting cast; Maria Doyle Kennedy's Mrs S is utterly convincing as the protective, concerned mother/daughter and Jessalyn Wanlim's nonchalant villainy is captivating.

    Scandal of Altruism rarely pauses for breath (which is possibly what makes the next episode, Antisocialism of Sex such an enjoyable character-focused interlude) and brings so much into the fold for it only to be destroyed by the time the credits roll. It is television that the edge of the seat is made for. It sends the show off in uncharted territory where the clones genuinely could not be in a darker situation and introduces new dynamics that sends the show capitulating towards the final four episodes of the season and the fifth and final season next year. You can read more on my thoughts about this, my favourite episode of Orphan Black, on my review and analysis of season four.


     A few things of note...

    While I consider S3 to be my least favourite season to date, it features the most amount of episodes of the four seasons on this list, all of which truly earn their place. I think that says a lot about this show.

    S4, my favourite season so far, has three episodes on the list and would have taken the next two spots with 4.5 and 4.9 if I extended it. I also consider it to be the most consistent season to date.

    All season finales made it on to the list, other than S1, which made it onto the 'notable runners up' list.

    All season premieres made it on to the list, other than S2, which again, made it onto the 'notable runners up' list.

    Tatiana Maslany is the greatest actress alive.


    So, that's that. My favourite episodes of Orphan Black, ranked and reviewed. Be sure to let me know your favourites in the comments section below and what you want to see next in my 'Orphan Black' series. Thanks for reading and be sure to share with Clone Club!