3 stars

REVIEW: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)

Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) races to find the heart of Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) to avoid succumbing to Davy Jones’ Locker while Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) search for Jack to serve their own agenda.

Dead Man’s Chest loses some of the fun seen in The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003). There’s still moments that are delightful, like the sword fight on a giant wheel between Sparrow, Turner and Norrington (Jack Davenport). While that sequence leaves you with a huge smile on your face, there definitely isn’t as many laugh out moments compared to the first film.

That’s in part to how the main trio spend pretty much the first hour apart from each other, or as a duo and when the third arrives, someone else disappears. There’s still the other members of Jack’s crew like Gibbs (Kevin McNally), Pintel (Lee Arenberg) and Ragetti (Mackenzie Crook) to add to the dynamics but when the main trio’s not together for convoluted reasons it does drag the film down a bit.

Convoluted is a good way to describe the plot of Dead Man’s Chest. There’s a lot of threads that different characters are following and it’s just a little messy at times. This is in part due to the villains. There’s Davy Jones, who doesn’t appear on screen till almost midway through the film but he certainly makes an entrance, and there’s also Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander), the Chairman of the East India Trading Company. Cutler Beckett is a different kind of villain, he has power and ties different from your average pirate making him a foreboding presence looming from the shadows.

The effects still stand up, especially the work on Davy Jones and his crew, and the battles between the Flying Dutchman and the Black Pearl are still exciting and look great. It’s the exposition that doesn’t always work.

Dead Man’s Chest is not a bad film by any means. It just loses a lot of the family-fun/action-adventure vibes present in the first film, making it a bit less enjoyable. 3/5.

REVIEW: Alien: Covenant (2017)

When the crew of a colony ship discover an uncharted world, fit for inhabitation, they are unprepared for the creatures they find there.

Alien: Covenant is a great looking film. The set design and costumes feel really lived in and real. The score often puts the hairs on the back of your neck up and all the effects, practical and computer generated, are a high quality. Alien: Covenant is also a well shot film, this is something that doesn’t really need saying when it’s directed by Ridley Scott but it is.

There are a lot of expendable characters in Alien: Covenant so you don’t really get to know a lot about them before they meet their (often gruesome) demise. Katherine Waterston give a brilliant performance as Daniels. She’s in pain but has a steely centre that helps ground others, she doesn’t lose her head in a crisis and this all makes Daniels a wonderful character. I was also pleasantly surprised by Danny McBride’s Tennessee. These two along with Michael Fassbender’s Walter are really the core of the film. All give great performances, with Fassbender proving once again how he’s one of the greatest actors of this generation.

Alien: Covenant is a prequel to Alien (1979) and a sequel to Prometheus (2012) so it’s got a lot to live up to and being in this sort of in between, doesn’t always help Alien: Covenant. There’s a lot of tropes anyone familiar with the Alien franchise will know so there’s less surprises while it also continues with this mythos that was set up in Prometheus. The mythos is something not everyone will like but I feel it was handled better here, and was more interesting, compared to what was shown in Prometheus.

There are scary moments (though I might be easily scared) and a lot of body horror as creatures burst from people’s bodies. The alien creatures themselves all look pretty great and it’s always great to see the xenomorph on the big screen again.

Alien: Covenant looks great and has a lot of solid performances. It is thrilling and often scary but it does follow a generic sci-fi pattern that makes it lack any real surprises. 3/5.

REVIEW: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

The Guardians of the Galaxy are back, working for money, and going off on adventures till Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) father, Ego (Kurt Russell), comes into his life.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a lot of fun. Drax (Dave Bautista) continues to be a standout as his brutal honesty and lack of understanding of social queues make many a witty moment. There’s a lot of one-liners and the relationship between this characters is charming and brings a lot of the humour.

There’s a great theme of “found family” running through Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (anyone who knows me know that’s my favourite trope ever) and it was done really well. You got to see how the team had grown closer since the previous film and the banter and arguments between them all is a highlight. The five characters who make up the Guardians of the Galaxy are great and you get new dynamics to the team with Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) who have bigger and more interesting roles this time round.

The actual plot isn’t so great – I won’t go into the plot a great deal as the promo stuff for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 really has shown only about the first 20 minutes of the film. (Well done marketing department for not showing a load of spoilers and climatic moments). It often feels like a series of scenes and funny moments stuck together with no real overall arc for a lot of the characters. For instance, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is a character who often feels short-changed. The film is a bit messy and while I enjoyed the film as a whole, it did leave me feeling it was a good example of style over substance.

Because Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a beautiful looking film. It’s colourful and CGI galore but it works pretty well and looks great. The alien creatures and planets are all different which makes this space opera richer and wonderful to look at. Plus, it still has an amazing soundtrack that will have you bopping along in your seat or smiling to yourself.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a bright, fun addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s funny and entertaining but it doesn’t really leave a lasting mark. 3/5.

READ THE WORLD – United Arab Emirates: Dubai Tales by Mohammad al Murr

A collection of short stories about family, love and relationships all set in and around Dubai.

I can’t remember the last time I read a short stories collection, it’s generally not my thing but I did enjoy Dubai Tales. They were often about five or six pages long with only a couple being closer to ten pages. Such short stories allow the author to build up your expectations in a story and then completely turn them around. These abrupt endings are often funny but some of them left me wanting more – though I feel that could be said for most short stories.

The stories in Dubai Tales are often quite mundane, about people’s everyday lives and their relationships until the last few lines and the whole story turns on its head. The stories are quite clever and funny, there’s humour in the ridiculous of the situations some of these characters get themselves into. The stories often subvert what you think traditional marriages or relationships are like in Dubai which is quite nice. There’s loving relationships, those which have their secrets and those you think are marriages but aren’t.

If you’re interested into snapshots of life in Dubai and the people who live there then Dubai Tales is a great read. It has information on the geographical location of Dubai such as where it is in relation to the capital of the UAE Abu Dhabi as well as the different suburbs of Dubai and it has a glossary which is a nice touch. 3/5.

REVIEW: Learning to Drive (2014)

learning-to-drive-posterWhen her marriage ends Wendy (Patricia Clarkson) decides to take driving lessons. Her instructor Darwan (Ben Kingsley) is a Sikh man who is having marriage problems of his own. Together they try to help each other both on and off the road.

Wendy’s life has been turned upside down when her husband leaves her for another woman, her daughter Tasha (Grace Gummer) and sister Debbie (Samantha Bee) each try to help her but they still have their own lives to live. Darwan, on the other hand, tries to look after his nephew Preet (Avi Nash) and his new wife Jasleen (Sarita Choudhury). Darwan works to jobs and dishes out good advice but sometimes he doesn’t always take it. He and Wendy form an unlikely friendship and they each learn from each other.

Learning to Drive is perhaps a little predictable but the performances really elevate the film. Clarkson and Kingsley are amazing to watch, their conversations during the driving lessons are interesting and often witty. The pairs chemistry and talent really shines through in those moments.

A great thing about Learning to Drive is that it gives you a small insight into Sikh culture. It’s the little details that shine through and help shows how the various rituals have such an impact on Darwan’s life and how he enjoys being a devout Sikh.

There’s nothing that surprising about Learning to Drive and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a gentle sort of film with a certain amount of charm about second chances and making your own way in the world. 3/5.

REVIEW: Jackie (2016)

jackie-movie-posterFollowing the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson), First Lady Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) must fight through the grief and trauma to console her children and to define her husband’s legacy.

Jackie isn’t a particularly linear story. It starts with Mrs Kennedy talking to a journalist (Billy Crudup) about how she wants her husband to be remembered and the film jumps back and forth to the past, the future, and her current interview with a journalist. While some events seen are easy to place, others you don’t really realise when they are happening till the end of the film.

The score in Jackie is very noticeable, which for some may work while for others may not. It’s a very loud, orchestral score that doesn’t always seem to fit with the action on screen. That being said, at times the crescendo of music does seem to reflect Jackie Kennedy’s inner turmoil.

Natalie Portman’s performance really is phenomenal and she does deserve any award recognition she may get. There’s many shots just focusing in on her face or of her wandering the corridors of the White House and you can see without words the pain, anger and loss she’s feeling. Peter Sarsgaard also gives a great performance as Bobby Kennedy and he and Portman’s chemistry as two people united by grief is captivating. Make no doubt about it though, this is Portman’s film.

Jackie is definitely one of those films that feels like a well-made and traditionally “good” film and while I can appreciate it for that, I didn’t particularly enjoy it. It’s a beautifully shot film and all the costumes and make up look top-notch but at its heart is a few weeks of a woman’s life as she struggles to put her life back together. I feel Jackie certainly earns the critical acclaim it has gotten so far but it wasn’t for me. Though if you have a great interest in the Kennedy’s, then Jackie is probably the film for you. 3/5.

REVIEW: The Jane Austen Book Club (2007)

the-jane-austen-book-clubSix people start a book club to discuss the works of Jane Austen only to find their relationships seem to resemble 21st century versions of her novels.

The group who get together for the book club all have their own problems but they slowly start to find help and comfort from each other. Sylvia’s (Amy Brenneman) husband has just left her so her daughter Allegra (Maggie Grace) has moved in with her, Prudie (Emily Blunt) is a teacher who fancies one of her students, Jocelyn (Maria Bello) has never been in a long-term relationship, Grigg (Hugh Dancy) is the lover of sci-fi and a Jane Austen-virgin, while Bernadette (Kathy Baker) is the most put together out of the whole group. Some of the book group have known each other for years while others are new found friends. It’s the quips and debates between them and the other people in their lives that makes The Jane Austen Book Club enjoyable and funny.

The thing that would probably add another layer of enjoyment to The Jane Austen Book Club is if you have read the six books by Jane Austen that are studied and talked about in the film. Not only would you have your own opinions on what the characters interpret from the books, but you’d probably be able to see how the six protagonist’s relationships mirror the novels a lot more easily. I have only read Pride & Prejudice so while I did enjoy The Jane Austen Book Club, and feel I didn’t miss that much from the overall story, if I’d known the Austen novels there might be some in-jokes and references I would’ve gotten.

The Jane Austen Book Club is a sweet, easy-watch kind of film with some good character dynamics and it’s definitely worth watching if you’re a Jane Austen fan. 3/5.