Reviews

READ THE WORLD – Slovenia: Mere Chances by Veronika Simoniti

Translated by Nada Grošelj.

A collection of singular and strange stories about characters struggling to maintain their identities as they cross physical and linguistic borders.

The themes of the stories in Mere Chances where very interesting as they cover belonging, identity, and the difficulties in making yourself heard in a new place. However, the actual plots of a lot of the stories aren’t as compelling as their themes. It’s like a lot of them are trying to be bigger and more important than they are, with surprises that don’t feel earned and characters that aren’t developed enough. Obviously, short stories don’t have the same space to give characters a full backstory but a good short story can give you a good characterisation to be interested in, even in just a few pages.

There are a few stories that are truly great and powerful. “Portugal” is about a young woman with a terminal illness who decides to make the trip she’s always wanted to before having to deal with the reality of her health. The escapism is great as she makes her way to her destination, talking to locals and letting her thoughts wander.

A couple of the stories are about the war in the Balkans and trying to find where the bodies in the mass graves belong to return them to their families. Those stories are like a shock to the system after the stories that are bland and unaffecting.

Mere Chances is a short story collection that has a lot of good ideas and themes but unfortunately the majority of the stories don’t have good enough characters and plot to make them more than interesting in theory.

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REVIEW: Point Blank (2019)

When ER nurse Paul’s (Anthony Mackie) heavily pregnant wife Taryn (Teyonah Parris) is kidnapped, he has to work with injured murder suspect Abe (Frank Grillo) to get her back as they face off against rival criminals and renegade cops.

Mackie and Grillo work well together here. Their characters are polar opposites which leads to some amusing moments, but they bring a lot of energy to their scenes together as thy have a common goal. Paul wants to get back to his wife, while Abe wants to get back to his younger brother Matteo (Christian Cooke) and all four of them are trying to keep ahead of the criminals who want them dead.

Point Blank is a predictable action thriller but the way the action is shot and how the plot speeds along makes it a fun ride. Quick edits a long with some decent fights make those scenes interesting however the car chases are more pedestrian than exciting. There are some surprisingly emotional moments though the script isn’t good enough to really pack an emotional punch.

There are some odd music cues in Point Blank as a fight or something will kick off and it’s like a needle drops onto a record but the song that starts playing isn’t one that really fits. It can be quite jarring and takes you out of the film as what you’re hearing and what you’re seeing really don’t mesh that well together. Sometimes the music choices even cheapened those times where they were going for something dramatic.

Towards the end of Point Blank, it starts to lean too far into the buddy comedy element and the ending is cheesy, but that doesn’t stop most of the film being a fast-paced and a generally compelling action film. 3/5.

REVIEW: Fast Five (2011)

Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) along with his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster and friend and former-FBI Agent Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) are on the run and backed into a corner. After they cross paths with a powerful Brazilian drug lord in Rio, they call in old friends to pull off one last job to buy their freedom. But all the while federal agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is on their tail.

Following on from Fast & Furious, Fast Five continues the trend of stepping away from its street racing roots becoming a heist film and it’s all the better for it. It still has some great car racing action, but a lot of it either pushes forward the plot or is a nice character moment. It has all the usual heist tropes, but they come together with characters you’ve seen across the previous four films means which makes them extra fun and enjoyable.

Moulding characters into the roles of heist archetypes like the techy (Ludacris’s Tej), the quick talker (Tyrese Gibson’s Roman), and the social chameleon (Sung Kang’s Han) is handled really well and it feels like an extension of the characters we’ve already meant rather than a complete reinvention.

Having all these characters come together and become friends, some of which previously knew Dom before while some only knew Brian, fully cements the key theme of this franchise – family. It’s a theme that had been there from the start but really, it’s once this cast of actors and characters are finally together that you properly start to connect with that message.

Dwayne Johnson is a brilliant addition to the cast and he is a formidable foe for Walker’s Brian and Diesel’s Dom. Really, Hobbs is a combination of the two of them; he has the knowledge of the legal system of Brian, the physical strength of Dom, and is just as loyal to his team as the two of them are to their own family.

The action spectacle of Fast Five is top-notch too. There are foot chases through a favela, an opening set piece with a heist on a train, brutal fistfights, and then there’s the climax which sees a lot of destruction on the streets of Rio. All the action sequences are exciting, well-shot and easy to follow and above all, they are really fun.

Fast Five is a thrill ride from start to finish. The false starts, and not so great films that came before it, can be forgiven because this one is a fantastic blend of action, intrigue, fun and above all – likeable characters that are one big family. Fast Five really set the bar for what the rest of the franchise could be. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Finland: The Howling Miller by Arto Passilinna

When Gunnar Huttunen turns up in a small village to restore a dilapidated mill, its inhabitants are instinctively wary. He’s big. He’s a bit odd. And he’s a stranger. Everyone loves his brilliant animal impressions but these feelings soon sour when he starts to howl wildly at night. And once the mean-spirited, small-minded locals realise Gunnar won’t conform, they conclude he must be mad and hound him from his home. With the help of the love of his life, and the local drunk, he’ll try and find some semblance on peace.

The Howling Miller feels a bit whimsical like a fairy tale or a fable a lot of the time, especially towards the end when you’re not sure what’s real and what’s not. It definitely has that feel of Eastern European folklore, though obviously Finland wouldn’t necessarily be classified as a country in Eastern Europe. It’s the setting of the forests and rivers and the dark, cold nights, and having a solitary hero with weird quirks, and townspeople who are fine to put up with his eccentricities until they aren’t.

Gunnar is perhaps a simple character as he doesn’t really get social cues or see the boundaries people have. Or he is just an arsehole who just does what he wants. He’s not horrible or unnecessarily cruel, but he lashes out when people turn against him. This then brings about a seemingly endless cycle of Gunnar and the townsfolk getting on until one irritates the other, and then the other reacts negatively. Though Gunnar isn’t the only one at fault. The people of the town, while imitated by the look of him to begin with, enjoy his animal impressions to begin with and even do their own but when he joins in, they feel he is mocking them and don’t like it.

The main problem Gunnar and a lot of the characters have is they are terrible at communicating. Gunnar is very blunt but has his own ideas of what people are thinking, while a lot of the characters never say what they really mean. It’s frustrating and is what leads to a lot of the conflict. The romance between Gunnar and Sanelma feels very rushed and while it’s easy to see why Gunnar likes the her, (she’s kind, pretty and thoughtful) you never really see why she loves him when his actions often inadvertently hurt her.

The Howling Miller is an odd story. Most of the characters are unlikable and it seems like it’s trying to be a cautionary tale, but it isn’t clear what lesson it is trying to teach. The events in the story feel very repetitive as Gunnar scares/shuns the townspeople again and again though in slightly different ways, making it a story that’s a bit of a chore to get through as no one seems to learn from their actions. 2/5.

REVIEW: Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)

Following the events of Avengers: Endgame Peter Parker (Tom Holland) just wants to put aside being Spider-Man for a bit and have fun with his friends on a school trip across Europe. But when elemental creatures appear, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) comes to Peter for help and introduces him to new superhero Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal).

Spider-Man: Far from Home is so much fun, but it also manages to handle some emotional beats while adding a whole new dimension to the MCU. Following on from Endgame, Far from Home touches on some of the logistical issues that would come with half of the world’s population returning after five years. People’s homes have been sold to someone else, people’s younger siblings are now older than them, and naturally people have missed a good chunk of what’s happened with their friends and families while they’ve been gone.

It’s the emotional fallout though for Peter Parker that really adds to the pressure he’s feeling. He lost is father-figure and mentor and feels like he has huge shoes to fill while still wanting to live a normal life. A scene where Peter and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) reminisce about Tony Stark and how they are, or are not, coping without him is a wonderful scene that highlights how Far from Home balances the fantastic with the personal.

Far from Home, like Spider-Man: Homecoming, is a teen high school comedy with all the good and bad things that can come with that. There are some cheesy jokes that don’t land or carry on too long, but then there’s also some hilarious moments as the young cast really do feel like a bunch of friends. MJ (Zendaya) has a larger role in this film as she’s sarcastic and funny but thoughtful as she tries to learn to let people be close to her. The teacher Mr. Harrington (Martin Starr) is a standout though and just about everything out of his mouth is hilarious.

Mysterio is an enigma and a character that is very difficult to talk about without going into spoiler territory. Gyllenhaal does a great job of playing the different layers of the character though, and midway through the film there’s a scene where he goes all out with a monologue and it’s magnificent.

The special effects are great too but there’s one sequence that will be talked about as a standout in the MCU for years as all of Peter Parker’s fears come to life. That whole sequence is awe-inspiring as it is so well put together and fits into both the story of the film and Peter’s emotional journey perfectly.

Spider-Man: Far from Home is funny, thrilling and spectacular. The first act isn’t as solid as the latter two as it retreads old ground seen in the previous Spider-Man film, but when the story shifts and certain things are revealed, it becomes something completely thrilling and innovative. Both post-credit scenes are some of the most important and game-changing in the MCU. Spider-Man: Far from Home is a satisfying end to Phase Three of the MCU, and where Phase Four is heading is anyone’s guess. 4/5.

REVIEW: Fast & Furious (2009)

When reinstated FBI Agent Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) crosses paths with fugitive Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) in Los Angeles, they reluctantly put aside past differences to take down a common enemy, a drug lord known only as Braga.

Fast & Furious sees the main four characters from the first film; Dom, Brian, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) return and work together. It is great to see these characters again and the cast still has great chemistry, however the story lets them down. The script is dull, the action sequences are, for the most part, uninspired, and there’s more brooding than fun.

In hindsight, Fast & Furious lays the character groundwork for future and better films in the franchise. But that doesn’t make Fast & Furious an enjoyable film to watch. There’s the odd good moment, like when Mia says to Brian; “Maybe you’re not the good guy pretending to be the bad guy. Maybe you’re the bad guy pretending to be the good guy.” But these few interesting character moments are hard to come by.

Fast & Furious is a lot more serious than its predecessors and losing that sense of fun makes the film, and the story, a lot more generic. There’s less straight out car races in Fast & Furious but more action sequences like shootouts and foot chases, though unfortunately the only exciting sequence is the one the film opens with. The opening and first act of the movie are the most interesting as it sets up these characters we already know and it’s exciting to see where they are going. Regrettably, once you know that, the plot is very predictable, and the film loses almost all momentum.

While it’s good to have Brian and Dom back together, there’s not enough thrills nor a compelling story to make Fast & Furious stand out in either the franchise, or as an action film. To be honest, the biggest problem of Fast & Furious is that two of the main action sequences, including the finale, are set in a poorly lit tunnel where choppy editing makes things hard to follow. There’s nothing thrilling about it. 2/5.

READ THE WORLD – Sri Lanka: Marriage of a Thousand Lies by SJ Sindu

Narrated by Emily Woo Zeller.

Lucky is an unemployed millennial programmer. Her husband, Krishna, is an editor for a greeting card company. Both are secretly gay, presenting their conservative Sri Lankan-American families with a heterosexual front while dating on the side. When Lucky’s grandmother falls, Lucky returns to her mother’s home in Boston and unexpectedly reconnects with her childhood friend and first lover, Nisha. When the two rekindle old romantic feelings, Lucky tries to save Nisha from entering a marriage based on a lie and finds herself pushed to breaking point.

Marriage of a Thousand Lies is an unflinching look at how someone who does not fit into their culture’s ideals can try and reconcile two sides of themselves. Lucky is in almost constant conflict with herself. She knows and accepts she’s a lesbian, she likes being a lesbian, but she doesn’t like how she has to hide that part of herself from her family. This struggle of being who she is but not wanting to lose or disappoint those who are closest to her is something that is almost constantly on Lucky’s mind as she tries to find the strength to be who she is.

Lucky’s mother wants her and Kris to have a baby and be just like all the other Sri Lankan families in their community. Lucky’s mother wants Lucky to fit in as she knows what it’s like to be shunned by the community. Lucky’s parents are divorced but naturally her father and his new wife (a close family friend) are treated just the same by everyone, it’s her mother that is seen as an outsider for being a divorcee.

Marriage of a Thousand Lies is written in the first person from Lucky’s point of view but you never really get a handle of how she’s feeling about what is happening in her life. Lucky is so emotionally closed off from a lot of what is happening around her that she barely reacts to what those closest to her are saying or doing. It makes the emotional impact of some big, potentially life-changing moments, not feel that important at all.

While they are obviously pretending to be happily married for their families, often it seemed like Lucky didn’t even like Kris and resented him for being married to her even though it was something that she agreed to and it worked for the both of them. Their relationship was never satisfactorily explored.

Nisha was equal parts frustrating and understandable. She would often have these big ideas, saying to Lucky they should run away together, but when Lucky tries to take her up on that, she reverts back to being the doting daughter. She is just as scared as Lucky about potentially losing her family and community over who she loves but she is so torn that she keeps hurting Lucky with her indecisiveness and mixed signals.

Marriage of a Thousand Lies is a well-written and poignant story. It handles the complexities of sexuality, religion and culture well but having a distant protagonist made it difficult to connect with her and the story at times. Also, in its honesty Marriage of a Thousand Lies becomes a very sad story as you, and Lucky, realise there might not be a way that everyone finishes this story happy. 3/5.