3 stars

REVIEW: Electric Souk by Rose McGinty

With nothing left for her in Ireland, Aisling travels to the Gulf to live out the Arabian Dream. There she meets fellow expats living the dream including debonair Brian who has heaps of charm and champagne, though is perhaps not all he seems. She also gets to know locals like Laila, her translator, and activist Hisham and finds herself in between the sleazy world of expats and wanting to learn more about her new home. As the Arab Spring erupts, Aisling is faced with a world of violence and fear and she’s left not knowing who she can really trust.

Set in an unnamed country in the Gulf, though I presume it to be Saudi Arabia based on a throwaway comment that the book Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea is banned, Electric Souk doesn’t always paint the city and its people in the best light. The divide between the Western expats and the locals is starkly obvious and the way characters act about the rules of the country they’re currently living in made me uncomfortable. Some of the expats talk in quite a derogatory manner about how the locals live and the rules of their society, and it’s a pet peeve of mine when people don’t accept other people’s way of life so that part of the book really grated on me.

Electric Souk is a bit slow to start but there’s an air of suspense and uncertainty throughout the second half of the book that made it much more compelling. With people disappearing, hints of corporate espionage and civil unrest edging ever closer, it becomes more of a thriller than the story of a woman trying to make a success of her new life. When Aisling starts to hear conflicting accounts of events, some of which she was involved in, she’s unsure of who to trust and starts to doubt everything she knows about the people she’s come to count as friends and the place she’s starting to call home.

I really liked how Aisling and Laila’s friendship grew. Aisling surprised me by being an expat that was actually interested in the culture and people she was now living with, instead of just being into the alcohol and partying like the majority of Western characters seen. She doesn’t want to be a part of the “us vs them” mentality but doesn’t always get a say in the matter which makes an interesting dilemma.

Aisling is often a character who a lot of stuff happens to, and she’s not always proactive in her own story. However, while I found that a bit frustrating at times, I realise that Aisling is a victim of circumstance and there is so much out of her control. Electric Souk ends up being a compelling and fast paced book with a real air of threat and danger. 3/5.

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REVIEW: Carrie Pilby (2017)

Nineteen-year-old Carrie (Bel Powley) struggles to make sense of the world and be happy as she tries to deal with an absent father (Gabriel Byrne), her higher than average IQ and the fact she doesn’t really like to leave her apartment.

Carrie is super smart and honest and that means she doesn’t always get along with people who she tends to find have the opposite traits. She’s a nineteen-year-old who thinks she knows everything and is pretty confident in who she is, but that doesn’t mean she’s always right. Carrie is a compelling yet sometimes frustrating character because of that – she likes to give the impression she’s all grown up but then she can have a childish attitude to somethings. I liked that about her. She’s the quirky, adorkable lead we’ve seen before but Powley plays her in a way that makes her feel more real.

Her relationship with her psychiatrist Dr. Petrov (Nathan Lane) is great and their scenes are often funny yet touching. Powley and Lane bounce off each other really well.

There’s humour in Carrie’s escapades as she tries to complete a list of goals set by Petrov, some of it doesn’t always land but it’s sweet and fun and it all helps Carrie to grow and be more aware of how lucky her situation is.

While Carrie Pilby is an indie film that’s typical of the rom-com, coming-of-age genre, director Susan Johnson puts together a tracking shot on the streets of Manhattan as Carrie and her neighbour Cy (William Moseley) take a walk on Christmas Eve. It makes their conversation feel so natural as they get to know each other and, as the viewer, you get to see a different side to Carrie.

Carrie Pilby is a fun, coming-of-age drama with a wonderful lead in Bel Powley. 3/5.

REVIEW: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

When a dark force threatens Alpha, a vast structure home to thousands of different species, Special agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) must race to find those responsible to not just safeguard Alpha, but the future of the entire universe.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a wonderful example of adventurous sci-fi. The opening credit sequence is so full of hope, wonder, as people from all corners of the galaxy coming together to share technology and knowledge and that is really the epitome of what sci-fi should be. It’s a weird and vibrant film, the costumes, the sets, everything just pops from the screen. The special effects and creature designs in this film are gorgeous. Honestly, it’s like a feast for the eyes, so much so that it can be a bit overwhelming at times. For instance, there’s so much to see as a spaceship manoeuvres around Alpha that everything can seem like a blur. That being said, when things are more static and you can appreciate how good the CGI is and how there’s so many different creatures, it’s truly wonderful. The sequence in the market, which is like a miniature heist, is an inventive and standout moment.

The human characters are pretty much your typical clichés and while you don’t really get to learn a lot about the alien creatures, besides shapeshifter Bubble (Rihanna), they tend to be more interesting than the humans. In the first scene between them, there’s some clunky exposition where you learn everything you need to know about Valerian and Laureline from a conversation where they point out each other’s flaws and backstories. Exposition continues to often be on the heavy-handed side but when there’s so much to see and appreciate about the environment this story is set in, that it doesn’t really matter too much.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a fast-paced, visual extravaganza that’s a lot of fun. It has its faults but overall, it’s kind of delightful in how much it loves being big and bold. 3/5.

REVIEW: Message from the King (2016)

South African Jacob King (Chadwick Boseman) arrives in Los Angeles to find his missing sister who appears to have gotten involved with the criminal underworld.

Boseman gives a solid performance as a guy who’s more than capable to take on anyone and anything thrown at him on his mission for justice. King is a smart man and has an aura of control that brings him to the attention of pretty much anyone he encounters.

The plot moves slowly in this film as there’s a lot of layers to this criminal underworld King dives into. With a lot of layers comes a lot of characters including major players Wentworth (Luke Evans) and Preston (Alfred Molina). Wentworth is more interesting of the two as he’s the middle man who knows everyone and attempts to deal with any potential problems.

The fight sequences are brutal and on the most part they are well-shot and easy to follow. They are also rather bloody and King is not afraid to be violent to get the information he wants.

Message from the King is an average crime thriller that’s only real notable achievement is having a great lead in Chadwick Boseman. 3/5.

REVIEW: Miss Meadows (2014)

Prim and proper elementary school teacher Miss Meadows (Katie Holmes) moonlights as a vigilante, but her quest for justice gets put in danger when she becomes involved with the local Sheriff (James Badge Dale).

Miss Meadows looks more like a 1950’s housewife than a killer and the two juxtaposed together can be shocking and unsettling. Miss Meadows has old-fashioned values and all the children in her class seem to love her but knowing what she’s really like makes her interactions with the children feel a bit weird. She’s lovely and kind but through her there’s a steely core.

Katie Holmes gives a good performance here. Throughout the film you start to see the different layers of Miss Meadows, why she does what she does with little to no remorse and how she can be so smiley but deadly. The romance between Miss Meadows and the Sheriff works really well, these two people who are technically on opposites sides of the law come together and Holmes and Dale have good chemistry.

Miss Meadows is a bit of an odd film. It’s sweet yet bloody, and Miss Meadows is an interesting character. There’s often a dark sense of humour about it all which doesn’t always work but it does make for a weirdly captivating film. 3/5.

REVIEW: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is living his everyday life as a high school kid and as the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man but after fighting with (and against) the Avengers, Peter wants more than that. When Peter discovers alien weapons are being sold, he comes up against the Vulture (Michael Keaton) a threat bigger than he’s faced before.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fun film. It very much feels like a teen comedy that just happens to have superheroes and that’s no bad thing. Seeing Peter in school, going to class, having to deal with annoying kids like Flash (Tony Revolori) and having a crush on popular girl Liz (Laura Harrier) was all great and Tom Holland played Peter Parker so well. I loved Peter’s friendship with Ned (Jacob Batalon), they felt like proper besties and it was great having someone knowing Peter’s secret identity from pretty early on in the film.

The story is a lot more small-scale than the threat-to-the-entire-world type plots we’ve seen in superhero films over the past few years. This was a good move as it gave more time for the characters and when there were stakes you felt them. That being said, the villain is an intimidating one and one of the best the MCU has had in a long time. Keaton nails the role, bringing menace and a certain affable charm to a character that could have been a pantomime villain.

I also liked how Spider-Man: Homecoming fitted into the MCU. Yes, there’s appearances from Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) but they don’t overshadow Peter and his story. If anything, Peter conversations with Tony are equal parts funny and sincere.

The humour didn’t always work for me. Peter is a kid who’s a hero so he sometimes makes stupid jokes and doesn’t think things through, and while that’s so perfectly Spider-Man, it just didn’t always hit the mark with me.

I liked Spider-Man: Homecoming but I didn’t love it. Breaking the film down like this there were a lot of elements I liked but for some reason together they didn’t give me the wow factor. Still, Spider-Man: Homecoming is an enjoyable film that will at least make you smile. 3/5.

REVIEW: Baby Driver (2017)

Working for crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) as a getaway driver, Baby (Ansel Elgort) is the best in business, that is until he meets waitress Debora (Lily James) and wants to get out of the whole shady business altogether.

Baby Driver is a fun film. I thought it was fine but I did not love it. In part I feel that’s because I’ve come to realise I’m just not a huge Edgar Wright fan, I’ve never hated any of his films but they never really leave a lasting impression and I do not love them like so many other people seem to.

I feel Baby Driver can be summed up by two things – the car chases and the soundtrack. The car chase sequences are thrilling and exhilarating and I liked how they always showed off Baby’s skills in different ways. The soundtrack is full of catchy, recognisable songs and I did like how the film used the soundtrack (and sound in general) however having a film that constantly had a backing song was a bit grating at times.

Baby has tinnitus, meaning he constantly has a ringing in his ears, and he uses music to block it out. It was the way the film showed how Baby heard sounds, like how it got quieter when he took an earbud out so it was like you were in his shoes throughout the film, that I really liked. The whip fast editing that went with the music was cool too.

Baby Driver felt like style over substance to me. This is a film about a getaway driver so naturally there’s heists (one of my favourite things in any type of story ever) but I found myself no really being engaged with it. I think this was down to the characters. All the cast did a fine job but I didn’t get attached to or particularly like any of the characters except for Baby’s foster dad Joseph (CJ Jones).

Baby Driver is a sharp, fast-paced film. It’s full of action and thrills but it lacks that final punch of something great for me. 3/5.