Paddington 2 – Review

When you were young, do you remember the feeling of seeing a great family film? The ones that centred around animals or creatures? At five years old, I would watch such films and think, ‘how did they get that creature to do all those things?’ That’s the feeling I had on seeing Paddington for the first time. Despite my knowledge of CGI and fur rendering, the small Peruvian bear felt real and I left the cinema with a feeling of wonder.

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The news of a sequel to the 2014 hit left me with excitement and dread. In a year of sequels that were not as good as the originals, (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2). Sequels that felt irrelevant (Alien: Covenant) and the sequels that were just God awful (Kingsman: The Golden Circle) how could Paddington 2 compare? Luckily writer, director Paul King has not only delivered a strong sequel but may have surpassed the original. Once again featuring Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters and Ben Whishaw as the voice of Paddington bear. Joined by newcomers Hugh Grant and Brendan Gleeson.

We pick up with Paddington a short while after the events of the first film; the small bear is happily settled in with his loving family the Brown’s and a beloved addition to his community. With his Aunt Lucy’s birthday approaching, Paddington wants to buy her the perfect present. He finds an antique pop-up book of London, the city she never got to visit. To pay for it, Paddington works odd jobs but before he can purchase the present, it is stolen! With Paddington blamed for the crime it’s up to him, The Brown’s and all his new friends to prove his innocence and unlock the mystery of the pop-up book.

With the success of the first film it was no surprise that writer, director King returned. This time he is joined by co-writer Simon Farnaby, who also has a cameo in both films. David Heyman returns as producer and with Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts on his CV, the man is no stranger to sequels.

Similar to the first film, the franchises strongest trait is that is focuses on the simplest of details. Originally Paddington wanted to find a home and here, he wants to buy his Aunt Lucy a present. From this elementary plot, King creates conflict, humour, character development and tenderness.

What King has done so brilliantly in this film is give every character their own arc. Mr Brown’s work life, Judy’s break-up, Robert’s new school image. King’s TV background is put to brilliant use making every character relevant. Even newspaper sellers have a purpose in this story and watching the characters band together to save Paddington, will fill any audience member with pride.

Once again, the film so brilliantly makes London a character. From an opening sequence of Paddington taking an interesting route into Mr Grubers shop, to an epic chase scene involving a stray dog and a Goose. The film’s version of London may be rose tinted but in Paddington’s world, it feels plausible.

Ben Whishaw reprises his role and lends his tender vocals to Paddington. Here we see a more vulnerable side to the small bear, when his home and family are taken away from him. Whishaw plays Paddington with equal amounts of cuteness and innocence.

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Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins once again head the Brown family. The relationship here is stronger with both seeing Paddington as a member of the family. Mr Brown also faces a midlife career crisis and a scene with him on two trains will have audiences in tears.

Within the strong ensemble cast, it is new addition Hugh Grant who really steals the show as Phoenix Buchanan. In contrast to Nicole Kidman’s icy villain Grant plays over-the-top, narcissist, and performs pantomime to a tee. There is more interaction here between Paddington and Villain which gives the film more edge. His motives are pure adventure fantasy and create added mystery in the film.

The kind of film the world really needs at the moment. The film makers have excelled in bringing Paddington and the Brown’s back to the big screen for his second outing.

Paddington 2 is smart, warm and a brilliant dedication to the late Michael Bond’s memory.

Paddington 2 is out in cinemas 10th November! 

Looking Back….Paddington (2014)

There is that initial anxiety when it is announced that a much loved character is making their way to the big screen. It feels inevitable that every character from our childhood will eventually be sold to the highest bidder. The most common result is that of the Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles variety (damn you Michael Bay). It may appeal to the younger generation, with snazzy effects but it loses its original charm for others.

This fear crept in when Paddington, the great British bear’s first feature film was announced. The film was to be done in live-action instead of traditional animation and Paddington himself was to be created using CGI. The warning signs came in fast and thick that this was heading in a bad direction.

The teaser trailer showed potential with its humour then a full length one offered hope of a heart-warming story. The end result for Paddington – the movie – is the rare combination of a film that retains its charm while adapting to its new format.

Paddington follows the adventures of a small bear from darkest Peru who is sent to London by his aunt to find a home. Despite believing that London is an all welcoming place what he finds is quite the opposite. Sitting at a train station the bear is approached by Mrs Brown, (Sally Hawkins) who agrees to take him home and names him Paddington, (after the station she finds him in). Despite initial protests from Mr Brown, (Hugh Bonneville) and her daughter Mrs Brown tries to help Paddington locate the explorer who told his relatives he would be welcomed. As he stays with the Browns the family all warm to him but someone in London has a very sinister plan for the small bear.

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The film is of course based on the classic characters created by Michael Bond. Directed by Paul King of The Mighty Boosh fame and produced by David Heyman, the man behind all eight Harry Potter films as well as the up and coming Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The film was ten years in development looking for the perfect script as well as advances in CGI fur-rendering to create the titled bear himself.

Despite this long period the film makers have done a brilliant job of adapting the story for the screen. The “series of events” format that the books follow would not have worked in a feature so here the back stories of each character have been expanded. Paddington’s home and family in Peru are shown more as is the tale of the explorer who gives Paddington’s family his hat. Here the Brown family are slightly fracture when they find Paddington. Mr Brown and daughter Judy are reluctant to give him a home which creates the conflict to overcome in the film. As you watch the family interact you see that the small bear is what can mend the gap between them.

Despite these small changes the film keeps in all the staples of the characters and story. Paddington, though well intentioned, is accident prone and able to create all manner of mischief. He also still loves his marmalade sandwiches.

The setting of London is as much a character as the great bear himself. Paddington must learn the ways of London such as the underground and a hilarious scene with a palace guard. We see him accidentally adorn a policeman’s hat as well as follow a route-masters bus. Audiences watch as he learns the perils of feeding a single pigeon with a film that is brimming with British wit.

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This is very much the forming of the Paddington bear we know and love. From his Aunt placing the ‘please take care of this bear’ sign around his neck to the moment he’s presented with his blue duffle coat. With ‘two sandwich compartments and wooden buttons for ease of paw’. The film has also retained the warmth and kind message of the books. You watch the family fall in love with Paddington and accept him into their home. It is a genuinely sweet film that reminds audience to be nice to those in need.

Ben Whishaw lends his young and innocent voice to Paddington bear. Able to make him mischievous yet polite and lovable. Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins head the two sides of the Brown family. Originally at odds over Paddington, he soon brings the family together. Bonneville in particular brings much of the films humour with his cynical manner and British stiff upper lip. He ever dons a bit of drag in a brilliant sequence. British institution Julie Walters has the small but hilarious role of Mrs Bird, the Brown’s eccentric relative. All the while Nicole Kidman plays the films icy villain with ease. Her plan to stuff Paddington to display in a museum may be cruel but is offset with great comic timing from Kidman. Including a sneaky One Foot in the Grave reference.

A sweet and charming big screen adaptation of a British classic. Fall in love with Paddington and watch a masterclass is adaptation.

Paddington 2 is out on DVD and Blu-Ray now! 

The March of China’s Female Filmmakers – Part 2

by Xueting Christine Ni

Catch up with Part 1. 

By the early 90s, China’s 6th Generation of independent filmmakers had emerged. The intellectual climate surrounding them was nurturing for female directors, bringing the socialized marginalised to the forefront and seeking to uncover the truth beneath ideology. A major force of this period was Ning Ying, whose wider socialist agenda, and quasi-documentary style of filmmaking is indicative of her generation. In For Fun (1992), she tells the story of old retirees who love of Peking opera. In portraying their struggles to find a place to hold group meetings for the hobby, Ning demonstrates the marginalisation of cultural spaces in the changing times, and the conflict between history and progress.

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The Chinese police, whose role had been overshadowed for decades by a totalitarian state, suddenly found themselves responding to massive migration and urban population explosions, and falling short of their old image as the “people’s police”. On the Beat (1995) is mockumentary, in which Ning Ying uses her trademark long takes, tracking shots, and stationary cameras to carefully craft a depiction of the “xian chang” or “at the scene”. She employs real policemen in the cast, placing the force under close scrutiny, both in the form and content of her work.

Directors of this period made it their essential aim to capture reality from every angle, but whilst there were bound to be documentaries about women, works made by women remained rare. Out of Phoenix Bridge (1997) made by Li Hong, who is recognised as China’s first female documentarian, was considered a groundbreaking work. Shadowing four women from the countryside who migrate to Beijing to work as domestic servants, the film follows their fresh taste of freedom, however meager their living conditions, before they return to the country to be wives and mothers. Li forms intimate friendships with these women who talk frankly about their dreams, worries, pressures and relationships, revealing the conflict between swiftly changing roles of women in Chinese society.

In each era from the 1950s to the present, there has been only a handful of women, bearing the torch of the Nü Dao Yan (female film director), not nearly the “half the sky” as rhetoricized by Chairman Mao upon reading an article on gender equality in a publication by the Guizhou’s Women’s Union in 1955. There was a significant awakening during the 1980s, but whilst some directors have gone on to make trailblazing films such as Zhang Nuanxin’s Going East to the Native Land exploring her Mongolian heritage, and Huang Shuqin’s Village Whore (1994), others such as Peng Xiaolian had succumbed to mainstream filmmaking. As China joined the WTO and made its films more globally available in the twenty first century, big names such as Jia Zhangke and Feng Xiaogang have continued to exploit the graceful images of strong women whether in moments of touching emotion or acts of incredible defiance in their films. While some major female stars have successfully gathered a small collection of well-received directorial works to their portfolio, such as Joan Chen’s award-winning Xiu Xiu The Sent Down Girl (1998), no female director of equal weight to any of these has emerged.

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Even in Hong Kong, where the social climate is apparently more welcoming for women, the number of prominent female directors can be counted on one hand.

Ann Hui, who was born in north-east China but migrated to Hong Kong at an early age, stands like a beacon in the dark for female Chinese directors. A driving force of Hong Kong’s New Wave movement on a par with Tsui Hark, she excels in detective thrillers, ghost films, martial arts epics and romances, borrowing from folklore and tradition to explore themes of identity, women’s struggles and relationships in  changing societies.

Although the emancipation of women in mainland China has been a top-down directive since the early twentieth century, the slogans had been chanted, the marches marched and the shows put on, the minds of men remained largely unchanged. Equality was couched in terms of the Tie Gu Niang, the Iron Maiden, who can be just like a man, rather than that women being treated as equal beings with different needs and desires. Whilst Chinese women have been liberated to engineer planes, design buildings and teach mathematics, their male partners were still expecting them to clean the home, cook the meals and raise the kids in addition, if not before. Out of Phoenix Village for instance, was produced in the tight time constraints between Li Hong’s more mundane work for the national television corporation, and her home life.

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Indeed, deep problems of gender equality have surfaced throughout China in the last few decades, from the occurrence of female infanticide that has now led to a disproportionately large male population, to the phenomenon of the Sheng Nü, or left-over women. For women to take an equal place in the leading industry roles, there needs to be an overhaul in men’s thinking, as they still occupy the lions share of each level of any industry. Also, women need to be allowed the space in their lives to take on the lead roles in their professional capacity.

In the mean time, women have tenaciously continued their filmmaking in the field of documentaries and independent films. The British Chinese writer Guo Xiaolu, who draws extensively from her own complex experiences of China, has been making poignant documentary films for over a decade about a changing China and East-West experiences. She has recently directed her lens towards feature films and towards British society in the latest work of her Tomorrow trilogy. Directors such as Yang Lina explore a range of issues including the still taboo subject of domestic abuse in documentaries as well as taking an experimental approach to gender and sexuality. Cao Fei, an artist who works across a range of art forms from photography to installations and performances, has been keeping an eye on the pulse of China since 1999. Her abstract short films not only explore themes of imbalance, autonomy of desires, and urban fringes in contemporary Chinese society, but make frequent forays into pop culture, from Second Life, and cosplay to shopping malls and zombie movies. With younger stars, like Zhao Wei who released her first feature film So Young in 2013, also turning their attention to filmmaking, I expect many more strong women stepping off the stage and into the director’s chair, to share the stories that no one else can.

About the Author: Xueting Christine Ni’s life has been an act of cultural translation. Dividing her life between London and Guangzhou, she been promoting Chinese Culture and understanding for the past twelve years. A graduate in English Literature from QMUL (London), and Chinese Literature at CUN (Beijing), she has been delivering talks and creating articles and resources for those interested in China, as well as translating a range of works, from manhua and sci-fi to poetry and documentaries. She is currently engaged in a book on Chinese deities, and acting as culture consultant on three independent video games. She has also written Paper Republic, Glli, London Graphic Network, Resonate Voices and RadiiChina. She currently lives on the outskirts of London with an English partner, and a Bengal cat.


Twitter: @xuetingni

10 Memorable Movie Mothers!

Hey all you baby makers, adoptive human growers and people with bosoms that comfort everyone who smooshes their face into it. It is indeed a day of celebration that have taken care of us in a motherly fashion. For many, mothers are God or a beacon of love, devotion and laughter.

In movies, this often feels the same, with our favourite characters helping raise our characters and put them on the good path. And sometimes in movies, they are twisted, self-absorbed and completely monstrous.

To celebrate Mother’s Day, here are the list of unforgettable movie mothers!

Dahlia & Christabella Gillespie – Silent Hill (2006)

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Being part of a religious centred town who took their faith in the big G-O-D a little too seriously must be tricky for a mother trying to raise her child after wedlock. For Dahlia Gillespie, it was more than she can bear especially when her sister, Christabella, is the matriarch of this cult like town. When Dahlia’s daughter Alessa was assaulted at school, Christabella decides to cleanse the child by fire which only leads Alessa to become this she-demon who now controls a warped death-trapped universe we’ve all had nightmares about. Dahlia is partly at fault but still loved her daughter enough for Alessa to not kill her with that weirdly attractive Pyramid Head. Christabella, motherly leader of the sinners in town, is a straight up bitch though.

Violet Weston – August Osage County (2013)

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Talking about straight up bitches, then there is this piece of work from August Osage Country. In an Academy Award nominated role, Meryl Streep plays the foul mouthed and angered Violet who is mourning the death of her husband. However, things get a little heated at his wake when the whole family and their secrets pull up a chair at the dining table over boiling in the Southern heat. Violent is not just cantankerous, she’s cunt-tankerous – a moody cow who will do anything to prove she is in charge and that she is always right. If that means she has to belittle and degrade her daughter until they move as far away from her as possible, then so be it. Streep definitely lavishes this role too making it an enthralling film.

Raimunda – Volver

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Volver is a film about women and it is strongly done too. Almodovar has a history at giving his leading ladies a voice, and it shines through indefinitely in Volver. Played sublimely by Penelope Cruz, Raimunda is a strong and powerful mother who strives to protect her daughter at all costs. When her daughter murders her father after he attempts to rape her, they flee to the old villages that Raimunda grew up in. That’s where she is revisited by her own mother to make things right, only she thought her mother was dead. Raimunda is a multi-facetted character with emotion running deep with her asset. Cruz enchants the screen with supremacy. Raimunda is a truly magnificent mother.

Molly Weasley – Harry Potter

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“Nobody touches my daughter, you bitch.”

And here endeth the lesson. Ok so let’s elaborate. Molly Weasley is the shit when it comes to motherhood. She’s caring yet stern, frantic yet stable and God help you if you lay a finger on her children. What’s more special than this is that the extension of her love enfolds those around her. The way she dotes on Harry shows she is an earnest and caring soul who gifts so many with her little touches that shows she is thoughtful and that she cares. How do we make this better? You put Julie Walters in the role for the movie franchise. Incredibly well done too.

Queen Elinor – Brave

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In most Disney movies, especially involving Princesses, there isn’t a mother around to guide them through their issues. I’m sure it’s because if a mother like Queen Elinor were around then they’d get the shit done. Elinor oozes royal class whilst still having will and determination, even when a bear. Come on, this is a woman who makes a room of sparring men stop just by walking with confidence.

She also learns a lesson too, alongside Merida, that life isn’t all about tasks and spending quality time with her daughter is still a vital component. Together they grow. It’s stunning to watch.

Erica Sayers – Black Swan

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There is an ambiguity with Erica, especially with Nina’s unravelling psyche as to whether the portrayal of Erica in the film is actually real.  Either way, Erica is a horrid mother because of her failed dance career that puts undeniable pressure on Nina after scoring the role as the titular Black Swan. Demanding, when her child exhibits signs of self-abuse and harm, she off-loads more mental harm onto her daughter. Played so well by Barbra Hershey , this mother is what happens at the extreme end of those dance moms – pushing their daughter to breaking point.

Wendy Torrance – The Shining

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Everyone always automatically feels sorry for Shelley Duvall. The mental strain that Kubrick placed upon her during filming was second to none but Tippi Hendron in The Birds. However, the performance he got from her was engaging and stunning portrayal of a mother on the edge. After dealing with a past of her stressed writer husband Jack, when he starts exhibiting worrying sign again and Danny, her son, is hurt – she launches straight into defence mood. And when Jack really turns psychopathic, she knows that she has to fight to save herself and her son. Even if that means swinging a bat at the craziest version of Jack Nicholson.

Evelyn Stoker – Stoker

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This may seem like a completely cop out of an entry, but to sum up how intensely messed up Evelyn is with her murderous daughter (in some sort of weird sexual battle over the equally murderous Uncle Charlie), you only have to turn to this monologue;

“You know, I’ve often wondered why it is we have children in the first place. And the conclusion I’ve come to is… At some point in our lives we realize things are screwed up beyond repair. So we decide to start again. Wipe the slate clean. Start fresh. And then we have children. Little carbon copies we can turn to and say, “You will do what I could not. You will succeed where I have failed.” Because we want someone to get it right this time. But not me… Personally speaking I can’t wait to watch life tear you apart.”

Of course, in the end, the pair find themselves in this weird stalemate but the damage from Evelyn  monologue and cool nature is done.

Eva Khatchoadourian – We Need To Talk About Kevin

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Being the parent of a murderer is a chilling situation to face. Based on a book by Lionel Shriver, the cinematic version of We Need To Talk About Kevinintroduced the cinematic industry to Ezra Miller who plays the titular psychopathic Kevin. But really, this is Tilda Swinton’s infallible performance as Eva. Having the cope with the heinous act that Kevin has committed, whilst retrospectively looking back of their relationship and the warning signs, Eva’s role is a defining and resolute portrayal of how a mother’s love could be bent and even broken as she watches her little boy grow up to be a killer. It’s astonishing work from Swinton and director Lynne Ramsey.

The Other Mother – Coraline

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Not one mother on this list has imprinted onto my soul as much as The Other Mother in Coraline. Honestly. Her beady button eyes bore into my deepest fears and I instantly feel like a child when I watch the film. This is Henry Selick at his most terrifying. With the help of Neil Gaiman, the author of the original story, The Other Mother is brimming with sinister predilections. As she entangles Coraline into her web, a warped mirror of her real mother Mel, The Other Mother transforms into a horrid beast. Voiced effectively well by Terri Hatcher, this is an unforgettable yet frightening mother.

Happy Mother’s Day!