4 stars

REVIEW: The Prince of Nothingwood (2017)

A documentary following Salim Shaheen, Afghanistan’s most popular actor, director and producer, with 110 films under his belt as he travels the country to shoot his latest film.

The Prince of Nothingwood is a brilliant documentary that’s both funny and fascinating. You get to see what life in Afghanistan is like for these men who are a part of Salim Shaheen’s films. Shaheen was in the military and even then, he was making films with the soldiers. They tell a story of how a missile went through a window, injuring and killing many of them and they used the footage of the aftermath in a film.

The film is directed by French journalist Sonia Kronlund and the interactions between her and Shaheen are one of the highlights of the film. Their conversations are funny because he’s such a big personality in comparison to her. Kronlund is well aware of the dangers of being a foreigner in Afghanistan but travelling with Shaheen, the rules don’t really apply to him. Everyone loves him and wants to shake his hand or have a selfie with him, including security personnel, the police and even the army.

Throughout The Prince of Nothingwood you get to see extracts of Shaheen’s films. They are over the top and for Western audiences probably considered pretty bad but they are quite inventive when you consider, as Shaheen says, there “is no money” to make films. Hence why he calls Afghan cinema Nothingwood. Shaheen’s films capture Afghan audiences though and they appear to get a lot of joy from them.

Kronlund not only talks to Shaheen but to the actors who have been a part of many of his films as well as his family. Admittedly it’s only his sons, she’s not able to talk to his two wives nor his daughters. It’s interesting to hear what other people think of Shaheen and his love of films.

The Prince of Nothingwood is a documentary about a man who loves films, both watching them and making them, and that love along with his larger than life personality shines through. The situations he and his film team get into often seem a bit farcical but there’s almost an air of innocence about it all. They all know what it’s like to live with the fear of death over them, there’s often mentions of what life was like under the Taliban, so they all embrace life and filmmaking and appear to have a great time while doing it. 4/5.

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READ THE WORLD – Dominican Republic: Papi by Rita Indiana

Drawing on her own memories of a childhood split between Santo Domingo and visits with her father amid the luxuries of the United States, Papi is the story of an eight-year-old girl and the relationship with her father.

Papi is a short yet fast-paced read. The way it’s written, with many long, run-on sentences, followed by lots of short sentences with repetition makes you read it faster and faster. It’s interesting that this manic style of story-telling is mostly present when the girls father is around, or she is anticipating his arrival. It makes her father feel like a whirlwind, a force to be reckoned with that picks her up and takes her along for the ride.

Papi is from a child’s perspective so there’s lots of fantastical imagery used where a child might fill in the gaps of what she actually knows. Her father is rich and popular with many business associates, while reading this you presume that means he’s a drug dealer but you never really get that idea from the narrator. She see’s her father as the best thing ever and the way events or people are described do feel like you’re in the imagination of a child. That being said, some of the words used feel far older than what an eight-year-old girl would be using. This adds another level of weirdness to the narrative as you’re never really sure as to what’s real and what’s not.

There’s not really much plot to Papi, or if there is, I often lost it. it’s scattered and hard to follow but there’s something about it that’s captivating. It’s more about the evocative imagery it presents about a girl’s relationship with her father than a story with a true beginning, middle and end. 4/5.

REVIEW: My Friend Dahmer (2017)

Jeffrey Dahmer (Ross Lynch) struggles with a difficult family life with a manic mother (Anne Heche) and a father (Dallas Roberts) who doesn’t understand him. As he tries to navigate high school and his teenage years, it solely becomes clear he doesn’t fit in with his peers.

My Friend Dahmer is a study of the teenage Jeffrey Dahmer, before he became one of America’s most notorious serial killers. Lynch gives a great performance as the shy yet unnerving young Dahmer. From his mannerisms to how he moves, everything about him seems not quite right. Add his fascination with disintegrating roadkill with acid and poor social skills it’s a captivating yet unsettling performance.

Dahmer is a loner and doesn’t have any friends until Derf (Alex Wolff), Mike (Harrison Holzer) and Neil (Tommy Nelson) start to include him and make a Jeffrey Dahmer Fan Club. Though can they really be called friends when they seem to manipulate him and like the infamy of being associated with him brings rather than who he is? With his so called friends and his parents who don’t take a real interest in him, the film offers a kind of nature vs nurture debate.

My Friend Dahmer blends the weird, creepy and darkly comedic incredibly well. It’s unsettling as you see Dahmer become more and more distant and angry as he tries to deal with his life, but then there’s sudden moments of humour, with situations that you probably really shouldn’t be laughing at.

My Friend Dahmer is a chilling insight into the life of a young killer. Lynch gives a captivating performance and with its blend of dark humour and suspense, it is definitely worth watching. 4/5.

REVIEW: Journey’s End (2017)

Set in the trenches in Aisne in March 1918, the story focusses on C Company and it’s officers, led by the young Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin), as they wait for the German offensive they’ve been warned is imminent.

Journey’s End is a claustrophobic and tense film. The way it’s shot makes you feel like you’re in the trenches beside these young men. This is achieved by a lot of close ups and the fact you as the viewer only see as much as the characters do. Like them, you get no warning when there’s sniper fire or a barrage of bombs, you have the same information as the characters do and this increasingly racks up the tension.

The majority of the film is set in the trenches and in the officer’s dug out. The dynamics between the five officers, Stanhope, Osborne (Paul Bettany), Trotter (Stephen Graham), Hibbert (Tom Sturridge) and Raleigh (Asa Butterfield), switch between camaraderie to violence and anger as the pressures of their situations rest heavily on their shoulders. All actors give brilliant performances but Claflin was the standout. I’ve never thought he was a bad actor, but he never made much of an impact on me before, in Journey’s End he’s magnificent. The fear, anger and frustration was clear to see as he struggled to look out for his men when it seems like there’s no hope at all. He turns to drink to get him through but that in no way stops him being a good Captain, even as it’s clear to see his mental state is deteriorating.

While Journey’s End is a bleak film, there’s still moments of humour, most of them coming from the officer’s interactions with the cook Mason (Toby Jones). It’s often gallows humour but they are trying to make the most of their terrible situation. These moments of humour help flesh out all the characters as you get to see their personalities when they’re not just focused on what’s a few hundred metres across no man’s land.

Journey’s End is a powerful and gripping film. Everything comes together, the costume and set design, the simple yet haunting music, and the great performances, to make this a great war film. 4/5.

REVIEW: Bubblegum by Sari Taurez

*I received a free electronic advance reading copy of this book in return for an honest review*

Status means everything in this society, including the difference between life and death. Tiana is a pampered member of the higher class of society, until her mother cuts her off and she must make her own way in the world. Tiana has a plan though – she has a knack for murder. Julia is Tiana’s first client, a lower-class girl, who volunteers at the local orphanage – an orphanage that’s being targeted by the infamous brothel-owner Bobby Nails. But as Tiana investigates she finds she might be in over her head. Tiana and Julia face a dangerous enemy on their quest for vengeance and justice, and they soon discover that they’re stronger together than a part. But will it be enough to stop Nails and save the orphans from a terrible fate?

The setting of Bubblegum feels like the near-future. Technology is pretty similar but the class system is very much a dystopian ideal – the rich get protection and are free to do whatever they want, including kill people from lower classes, while the lower classes struggle to get by with limited opportunities when it comes to work and education.

Bubblegum is a lot of fun and that’s down to the larger than life characters and the fact the action never really lets up for long. The characters are what really pulled me into this story. Tiana is bold, confident and a bit selfish sometimes, she seems to steamroll over Julia (and others) quite a few times but slowly you get to see that she’s not always as tough as she appears and she does truly care for a few select people. Julia is great. She’s the most relatable character of the bunch. She doesn’t have a lot of money, she cares a lot about the children she works with at the orphanage and she is very well aware of the dangerous situations she is slowly getting herself into and has very realistic, yet level-headed, reactions to it all.

The dialogue between Tiana and Julia is great. To be honest, pretty much all the dialogue is quick and engaging, putting the point across without too much unnecessary exposition. It’s the relationship between Tiana and Julia as well as Ruby and William, two characters you are slowly introduced to and are just as engaging as the story progresses, that really makes Bubblegum for me. Tiana and Julia have such an unlikely yet solid friendship (what with Tiana being almost the stereotypical white rich girl while Julia is the black poor girl) and when Ruby and William come along they dynamic shifts but they all make a badass yet kind of messed up group of people.

I’m pretty sure Bubblegum is the first New Adult story I’ve read and if this is the kind of thing the NA bracket brings I’ll be reading more of it. Bubblegum doesn’t shy away from gory violence and it does have some sex scenes but nothing too explicit. However, there are references to prostitution, including child prostitution, and sexual violence.

While I can’t say anything about how good the representation is, there is a female/female romance between a lesbian character and a transgender character. The relationship between the two is organic and sweet and you’re really rooting for them both, especially as their personalities are kind of the complete opposite but they compliment each other a lot.

Bubblegum is action-packed and while it does feature tough themes like human-trafficking and prostitution, it still manages to be fun without lessening the traumas the characters face in these situations. 4/5.

Bubblegum is released on 9th October 2017

REVIEW: Borg vs McEnroe (2017)

The story of the rivalry between the enigmatic Björn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) and the brash John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf) with a focus on the 1980 Wimbledon Championship.

Borg vs McEnroe is a great insight into two legends of tennis. It’s a bit uneven in the time spent with each man, with more of a focus on Borg which is a bit of a double-edged sword. It’s a good thing because out of the two he is generally the one who is more private and less is known about him so seeing him as a child and teenager shows how he became the champion in was in the 1980’s. but on the other hand, every time the focus shifts to McEnroe, the screen crackles with energy and that’s down to LaBeouf’s near perfect performance.

LaBeouf as McEnroe really was the highlight of the film for me but it was interesting to learn more about Borg and his relationship with his coach Lennart Bergelin (Stellan Skarsgård) and his fiancé Mariana Simionescu (Tuva Novoyny). All give good performances but Shia LaBeouf is the one who really shines.

All the tennis matches featured in Borg vs McEnroe are well-shot and exciting but it’s the 1980 Wimbledon Final between the two men that is truly thrilling. With the music building as each set progresses, the editing and the performances of the two leads it makes the final showdown between these two legends incredibly tense and exhilarating. Everything in Borg vs McEnroe has been building to this moment and it doesn’t disappoint.

The costuming, the music, the sets, everything is so incredibly 80’s and it all looks great. Borg vs McEnroe is a great, though slightly uneven, sports film. If you’re a tennis fan you may get more out of it but it’s themes of rivalries and underdogs are for everyone. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – England: Let Them Eat Chaos by Kate Tempest

A long poem, that was written to be read aloud, about seven different people who live on the same London street.

Set at the same moment in time in the early hours one morning, moments before a huge storm breaks, Let Them Eat Chaos takes you into each person’s lives, seeing their thoughts and feelings at that very moment. Sometimes their emotions are raw and scattered, some think about what’s going on in the world, while others are thinking about their immediate future.

Let Them Eat Chaos is almost a crystallised snapshot of what it’s like to live in London, how money never goes far enough, the gentrification and how people are often living from one payday to the next. It doesn’t shy away from the more grimy and less pleasurable aspects of London life but it also has a positivity about the place, what it could be if people didn’t isolate themselves so much and tried to make a small change to their lives, and the world around them.

Let Them Eat Chaos uses powerful, emotive language to almost be like a rallying cry to action, to make people wake up and be more proactive and accountable. It could come off as preachy at times but it manages to avoid that on the most part as it has a sincerity for the different subjects it touches upon.

“Life is much broader than borders” is a line that really hit me, especially living in England-post Brexit. I’m not sure when Kate Tempest first performed this piece but the book was published in 2016 so maybe Brexit was on her mind, whether it was the final result or the debates surrounding it. So much of Let Them Eat Chaos feels like a desperate plea to reach out to others and I can imagine hearing Tempest perform it would make it ten times more powerful.

Let Them Eat Chaos is a poetic and effective piece of work. It’s a quick read but the language used and the way the words are laid out makes it easy to imagine them being said aloud. 4/5.