4 stars

REVIEW: All This Panic (2016)

A documentary following a group of teenage girls for three years, from their last year in high school to their first few years in college, looking at the relationships they make along the way and how they and their lives change in that time.

All This Panic is a great because it doesn’t judge any of the girls it follows, instead it shows all their different sides, the times things go well for them as well as arguments they may have with parents or their friends. It allows you to form your own opinion on each girl while still understanding that they are all growing and learning all the time.

Out of the group of friends one decided not to go to college, so it was interesting to see how her life differed to her friends and how they tried to stay in touch and if they could remain as great friends as they were in school. I think it’s good to see how relationships can change and to allow that to happen, and just because they weren’t together every day anymore, it didn’t mean their friendship was over.

The girls all talked about boys, and girls, they fancy, what they thought about relationships and how when they’re seventeen you can’t win as if you haven’t had sex it’s seen as weird, but if you have then you shouldn’t have. All This Panic paints a very honest picture of what teen girls go through and to paraphrase what Sage says, “People want to see teen girls, but don’t want to hear them.”

All This Panic is a short film, but it packs a lot in. It’s entertaining and affecting as it’s easy to see yourself in these girls and you want them all to find their way and be comfortable in their own skin. 4/5.

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REVIEW: Molly’s Game (2017)

The true story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), a self-made woman who ran the most exclusive high-stakes poker games in America, attended by film stars, musicians, businessmen, and unbeknownst to her, the mob, and the subsequent court case when she becomes an FBI target.

Molly’s Game is a fast-paced film, with rapid quick-cut editing and a voiceover from Bloom throughout. This voiceover adds details such as she was thinking and, when it comes to the poker games, explains some of the slang terms for hands and cards. While the film does offer these moments of explanation, there’s a lot to take in and it might have been easier to follow, and perhaps that bit more enjoyable, if you have more of an understanding of poker. It’s still an engaging film though, there’s just a lot of information being giving to you almost constantly through the voiceover.

The script is razor sharp, which is unsurprising really as it’s penned by Aaron Sorkin (writer of The West Wing, The Social Network and many other shows and films). The dialogue is funny and lively, and the scenes jump between the present and Bloom’s court room battle, and her rise and fall in the world of poker.

Jessica Chastain gives another stellar performance here. She’s commands every scene she’s in and outshines just about any other actor she’s on screen with. Idris Elba plays Charlie Jaffey, Bloom’s lawyer, and their verbal sparring matches as they slowly begin to understand one another are electric.

Molly’s Game is an entertaining film, albeit perhaps a bit overlong, with great performances, some laughs and high-drama. 4/5.

REVIEW: Battle of the Sexes (2017)

The true story of the 1973 tennis match between World Number One Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and ex-champ Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell).

What’s really interesting about Battle of the Sexes is that it’s main focus isn’t just the tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs but how society was in the 1970’s in relation to the women’s movement and how King and Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) set up their own women’s tennis tournament. This allows you to really see where King was coming from, what obstacles she and other female tennis players were facing, and how hard she fought for respect from her male peers. This helps you realise how difficult a decision it was for King to take up Riggs on his offer, as the weight of people’s expectations were on her shoulders. This build up to the big match also gives time to Riggs side of the story, showing his more human-side and how he may not believe all the chauvinist stuff he says but rather says it for a reaction.

Everyone gives compelling performances in Battle of the Sexes. Emma Stone does a great job in portraying the inner conflict in King as she finds herself attracted to hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) while still caring for her husband Larry (Austin Stowell). Carell is hilarious as Riggs, but you also get to see his vulnerabilities that comes with being a gambling addict.

Battle of the Sexes has snappy dialogue, compelling characters and is a lot of fun. It balances the drama with the comedy and when you finally see the match between King and Riggs, it’s a thrilling showdown between two larger than life people.

Battle of the Sexes is a great film with an important message and themes and it’s so unfortunate that those themes of equal rights and opportunities between the sexes is still so prevalent over 40 years later. 4/5.

REVIEW: Sand Storm (2016)

When a Bedouin patriarch Suliman (Hitham Omari) takes a second bride, his first wife Jalila (Ruba Blal) struggles in her new role while their oldest daughter Layla (Lamis Ammar) strives for her independence.

Sand Storm is a riveting film. While it seems like a small family drama, it’s scope is much bigger as it’s an insight into a culture that will certainly be unfamiliar to many people. While it might be a culture that’s somewhat unknown, the themes Sand Storm deals with certainly aren’t. Modernity vs tradition. Freedom of choice vs family duty. It’s painful to see these women faced with these dilemmas but at the same time it’s inspiring to see their strength and love for one another.

The conflict between Layla and her mother feels incredibly real. Layla wants to choose who she falls in love with and get an education and while at first it seems her mother is standing against her for the sake of it, you soon realise it’s because she wants her daughter to be safe. The way their relationship develops into a mutual understanding, with so much of it left unsaid is beautiful really.

Tasnim (Khadija Al Akel) is one of Layla’s younger sisters and while she’s a lot younger than Layla you can already see how fiercely strong-willed she is. She enjoys being outside with the goats, wearing jeans rather than dresses and the moment she begins to see what her future is likely to hold is a bitter pill to swallow.

Sand Storm is a touching tale, it shows the everyday life of this family and it’s through the mundanities of their life that you become connected to them, wanting them to get what they want in life. Sand Storm is a thoughtful and memorable film due to the great rapport between its characters and some touching performances. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Democratic Republic of the Congo: Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou

It’s 1970, and in the People’s Republic of Congo, a Marxist-Leninist revolution is heralding a new age. But in the orphanage where Moses has grown up, they have terror and corruption in the form of the orphanage’s director. When Moses makes his escape, he finds a new home in busy Pointe-Noire with petty thieves and Z airian prostitutes. His new life is thrown into chaos when he authorities want to remove the city’s underbelly, and as they do so, Moses starts to lose grip on reality.

Black Moses is a captivating and well-written read. The language used paints a vivid picture of Moses and his life, growing up from child orphan to teenage thief and to an adult who has his own family unit. The interesting thing is that Moses’ life is so often shaped by political turmoil but it’s something that neither he nor the book really comments on, events happen and sometimes Moses doesn’t even really notice them.

There are a lot of references to various political leaders and the repressive politics of the Congo, having an understanding of that may have made the book more enjoyable, but it was still an accessible read. It has a lot of themes you can connect to, regardless of your knowledge of what life was like in 1970s Congo. There’s themes of loss, family, friendship and being forced to grow up fast.

The story is a quick read and there’s many funny moments. Whether that’s the situations Moses finds himself in, especially his antics in the orphanage, or through the dialogue between characters. The dialogue is quick, sharp and witty and is a great indicator as to what these characters and like and what they value.

Black Moses is an enjoyable read. At just under 200 pages the story speeds along as you follow Moses through his childhood to adulthood, leaning more about him and those he loves and loses along the way. 4/5.

REVIEW: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) finds himself imprisoned on Sakaar, a planet ruled by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), and is forced to battle in gladiator-style events where he is reunited with the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Thor must fight to escape and return to Asgard where the Goddess of Death Hela (Cate Blanchett) has claimed the throne and plots to bring about Ragnarok – the end of everything.

Thor: Ragnarok is big, bright and bold. It’s the most colourful Thor film yet, especially the planet Sakaar. Everything there from the costumes to the sets to the characters, they are all vivid and almost bursting from the screen. Thor: Ragnarok has a lot of humour too. Not all the jokes land but it’s bright world compliments weird and funny characters.

A lot happens in the first thirty minutes of Thor: Ragnarok. There’s a lot of character introductions, references to what happened in the previous Thor standalone film, The Dark World, and set up for the main plot. It bounces all over the place for a time, from various planets including Asgard and Earth until the main story settles on Sakaar. This is a bit disjointing at times and makes it hard to settle in with the flow of the film, especially when the off-beat humour is not really what has been seen in previous Thor films.

Once everything is set up though, that’s when the various characters and their interactions really shine. Any of the moments between Thor, the Hulk (or Bruce Banner when he’s back in the driving seat), scavenger Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and combinations thereof were a joy to watch. The quick-witted banter is great but there’s still some nice moments of character building between them all.

The action sequences are a lot of fun, especially the battle between Thor and the Hulk. Hela proves to be a formidable villain as she wrecks death and destruction on Asgard, with very few standing in her way. She’s probably the most interesting villain since Loki, and her entrance into Thor’s world flips everything both he, and the audience, knows on its head.

Thor: Ragnarok is weird but kind of wonderful. It isn’t perfect and has a lot going on at times, but the cast of characters and their interactions are what makes it. It’s a funny and enjoyable watch. 4/5.

MINI COMIC REVIEWS: Fun Home, Power Man and Iron Fist Vol. 1 and Filmish

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

This is a graphic novel memoir from Alison Bechdel (yes, she’s the woman who the Bechdel test is named after) about her childhood and adolescence living in her family’s Victorian home with her rather eccentric family. The memoir is mostly about Bechdel and her relationship with her father, which was both very distant and unusual, neither of them understanding one another until she came out as a lesbian, and learning from her mother that her father was a closeted homosexual.

Fun Home isn’t a linear story, with scenes being revisited when you have been given new information. It’s also both funny and farcical at types when Bechdel recounts her dysfunctional family life. I liked the moments when Bechdel looked back on different events with hindsight, you got to see what the teenage her thought at the time and her own ideas of what really happened now she’s older.

Fun Home features a lot of themes including sexuality, gender roles (Alison preferred to wear “men’s clothes” from a young age) suicide and emotional abuse. It’s an interesting and quick read but I never really felled compelled to keep reading. 3/5.

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