4 stars

REVIEW: Rudderless (2014)

When his son Josh (Miles Heizer) dies, Sam (Billy Crudup) stumbles across a box of his demo tapes and lyrics and starts to perform them. Soon he finds himself in a band, trying to use his son’s music to find some piece.

Rudderless is directed and co-written by William H. Macy (who also stars in the film as the owner of the bar Sam performs at) and for his directorial debut he puts together a great film. It’s filled with soft lighting, brilliant performances, wit and emotion.

The script has its twists and it deals with a heavy subject matter but all the cast handles it brilliantly. While it is sometimes a film that tugs on your emotions, it also has humour and vibrant characters that all feel like real people with their own problems.

So much of the emotion in the film comes from the music. It’s where Sam finds a connection with his son and where he finds a lovely yet unexpected friendship with fellow musician Quentin (Anton Yelchin). The songs are all fantastic and it’s the first time I’ve bought a films soundtrack in ages. Each song is touching and they are all well performed, Crudup and Yelchin both have great voices and chemistry both hen performing a song together and in just about every scene they share.

Rudderless is one of those films where I don’t really know how to describe it – it’s full of wonderful characters, a touching story and it is something special. It’s a hidden gem and I feel it’s a film that’s best to go in knowing as little as possible. Rudderless really is a delightful film. 4/5.

REVIEW: Z for Zachariah (2015)

Ann (Margot Robbie) lives alone with her dog after a disaster that wipes out most of humanity, that is until two men, John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Caleb (Chris Pine), stumble into her safe world.

Z for Zachariah is an eerie film. You get to see how Ann lives a monotonous yet safe life while the rest of civilisation seems to have disappeared. She’s obviously strong and resourceful but she has an air of naivety around her as she doesn’t know what it’s really like outside of her little bubble of safety. So when she encounters first John and then Caleb, who both appear to have seen terrible things, she’s very trusting and comes across much younger than the two of them.

Z for Zachariah is beautifully shot and has some haunting music. It’s a film that takes its time, letting you get to know these characters and their relationships as it slowly builds small hints of conflict between them. The three actors are all brilliant and they all have good chemistry and the dynamics presented between their characters is interesting.

Z for Zachariah is a gripping drama and is definitely one of those films that its best to go into knowing as little as possible. 4/5.

REVIEW: Wonder Woman (2017)

When pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands onto the home of the Amazons, bringing news of a war to end all wars, Diana (Gal Gadot) leaves her home and all she knows to go fight to save those who can’t protect themselves.

Diana is a brilliant hero. She’s confident in her powers and her beliefs so there is none of the “oh the pains of being a superhero” that you often see in superhero movies. She is strong and compassionate, and while she doesn’t always understand the world of Man, the film never makes it into a big deal or is condescending about her lack of experience.

There’s humour to be found in her bewilderment and it’s all very charming but never patronising. I think that’s one of the great things about Wonder Woman, it’s never defensive about its titular character nor its story, it’s sincere in the way Diana and the film itself, celebrates inner strength and the power of love and compassion.

In many ways, the film makes you wait for the action sequences, instead spending time allowing the characters to talk and learn from one another. These quieter moments are never boring and are often funny. That said when the action and fights do happen, they’re brilliant. The way you see Diana, and the rest of the women of Themyscira, fight is magnificent. They are all powerful and skilled and the way the camera shows off their skills is captivating. There is so slo-mo used, which does make sense as Diana can move super-fast, so you can really see how she avoids gunshots and bayonets.

Diana is an amazing character and the shots of her fighting side by side with Steve, and leading him and Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), Charlie (Ewen Bremner) and Chief (Eugene Brave Rock) into battle gave me chills. Gal Gadot gives a great performance, showing both Diana’s power and sensitivity in the face of war, and the quieter moments between her and the other characters are a delight. While there is sometimes a joke made about a woman in battle, none of the men who fight by Diana’s side ever doubt her or her abilities.

The villains in Wonder Woman aren’t the most well-developed but as that is something that could be said of a lot of superhero films, it’s not a huge complaint. I would much rather have a film with a fantastic hero and a mediocre villain, than a great villain and a dull hero. Ludendorff (Danny Huston) is an army General with grand plans and Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) is a master at making poisons, she was an interesting character and it’d be cool to have learnt more about her.

Wonder Woman is a wonderful film. It’s very much a traditional superhero origin story but is a lot more charming and sincere with it. Diana is a brilliant hero who brings a sense of hope to the world. 4/5.

REVIEW: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)

Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and the crew of the Black Pearl join forces with Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to find Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and make their final stand against their enemies.

I enjoy At World’s End and feel it’s a pretty solid end to a trilogy. It’s got a lot of great character moments and very quickly the main trio end up together and when they do they stick together. Or rather, if they do split up in any variation they end up back together a lot quicker than in Dead Man’s Chest. The plot is still kind of unnecessarily complicated with characters having different agendas, or at least seeming to when they really all want the same end result, but the film is more entertaining with it.

Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) steps up and becomes the main villain as the figure head for law and order on the seven seas. His verbal sparring with Jack is brilliant and those scenes help show a different side to both men.

The mythos that’s presented in At World’s End is one of the highlights. With the nine Pirate Lords and the brethren court it’s a great chance to widen the world of Pirates of the Caribbean. The scenes at the brethren court are a chance to show off more great costumes in seeing pirates from across the globe. It would’ve been nice to see more of the other Pirate Lords but really they’re there to serve a purpose – “We must fight, to run away!” is pretty much the motto of all the pirates.

At World’s End, much like Dead Man’s Chest, is a long film. It’s ten minutes’ shy of three hours long and sometimes you do feel that run time. That being said, watching At World’s End so close to Dead Man’s Chest means you pick up on the smaller plot threads or the significance of certain items, Bootstap Bill’s (Stellan Skarsgård) knife for instance, a lot better and it helps make both films more enjoyable.

At World’s End is a great conclusion to a trilogy, all loose ends are tied up and there’s a lot of well-developed character arcs that come to a satisfying end. It’s another great looking film with the sword fights and battles on the sea all well-shot and put together. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – North Korea: The Accusation: Forbidden Stories From Inside North Korea by Bandi

A collection of short stories showing life under Kim Il-sung’s and Kim Jong-il’s totalitarian regimes. All the stories are written and set in the early 1990’s and had to be smuggled out of North Korea.

The Accusation is a truly remarkable book. While there has been novels, fiction and non-fiction, from North Korean writers, they’ve been written outside of the country once the author has defected, there’s never been work criticising the regime from inside the country. The story of how the manuscript of this book was smuggled out of the country is as fascinating as the stories themselves.

These short stories were truly eye-opening. They’re about ordinary workers, families, and officials and everything they have to do to stay in line – both the unconscious acts and the conscious ones. The stories show the difficulties of harsh food rations, no fuel to keep homes and workplaces warm and how you must never speak your mind or show you are unsatisfied.

The stories are all well-written in a simple style making them accessible but it’s really the content of the stories that is the most important thing. They each criticise the regime in North Korea in some way, shining a light on peoples suffering and how they either attempt to fight against it or become sadly accustomed to it.

Naturally, there were some stories I preferred to others. One of my favourites was “On Stage” about a Party official’s son who shows him how life in the country is a constant performance, and how you must never show anyone how you feel. If the occasion calls for you to be sad, you must cry. If it is a joyous occasion, you must laugh and smile even if your heart is breaking. I felt this story (along with my other favourite “City of Spectres”) really showed how no one is safe, and how fear of death and banishment keeps people in line.

The Accusation is a great and important insight into life in North Korea. It’s a quick read, each story is around 30-40 pages, and a captivating one. 4/5.

REVIEW: Their Finest (2016)

Newly appointed scriptwriter for propaganda films at the Ministry of Information, Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) joins the cast and crew of a major production aimed to bring “authenticity with optimism” to the public while the Blitz rages on.

Their Finest was a surprise in the best possible way. It’s funny, touching and doesn’t go for clichés like I thought it would. It’s got some brilliant performances, Gemma Arterton is fabulous and Bill Nighy (who plays veteran actor Ambrose Hilliard) is wonderful, watching their relationship grow was lovely to watch.

Their Finest is a film about filmmaking and stories. It’s always nice to put the people who make and write films front and centre and seeing how Catrin and Buckley (Sam Claflin) write a film together, working around obstacles like terrible actors and changes in location was great. While those who know next to nothing about filmmaking will not get lost watching it, the small attention to detail when it comes to filmmaking in the 1940’s is delightful.

There’s always the threat of the Blitz hanging over the characters but they still find the best in a bad situation and it is that good old example of British resolve. Their Finest is also quite a feminist film, Catrin and Phyl (Rachael Stirling) are only getting the chances they have because young men are off fighting but they get to show they are good at what they do and deserve the recognition. Also it features a perfect example of my favourite theme; media being able to inspire those who don’t usually see themselves in media.

Their Finest is a wonderful film that balances comedic romance with period drama. I feel this is pretty much a perfect example of the term “crowd pleaser”. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Zookeeper’s Wife (2017)

The true story of Antonina (Jessica Chastain) and Jan Zabinski (Johan Heldenbergh), keepers of the Warsaw Zoo, who helped saved hundreds of Jews during the German invasion.

The Zookeeper’s Wife is a beautiful looking film. So bright when the zoo is open and thriving, it’s almost idyllic before the Nazi’s invade, Antonina cuddles lion cubs and her son Ryszard (Timothy Radford and Val Maloku) has a pet skunk. Living and working in a zoo almost seems utopian until it’s suddenly and violently attacked. The juxtaposition of the innocence of animals to the cruelty of people can be a little heavy handed at times but there are certain moments of brilliance, like when tigers and lions walk down the bombed streets of Warsaw.

There’s a throbbing sense of foreboding once Antonina and Jan decide to try and help the Jewish people who had been rounded up into a ghetto. Every person is a potential threat from the cook, to neighbours and of course the German soldiers who are always on patrol. They have a plan and a system in place but there’s always the threat of discovering hanging over their heads like a guillotine.

The Nazi occupation is personified by German zoologist Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl) who is forever a lurking and watching the Zabinski’s. It begins as a mutual love of animals but his interest soon turns to Antonina causing an extra thread of tension to grow not only between the two of them but also between Antonina and Jan.

The themes of love, friendship and loyalty in the face of hatred, which are so often seen in films set in this time period, are no less affecting. This is down to great writing and brilliant performances from all involved. The Zookeeper’s Wife is sometimes a brutal and upsetting experience but there is still hope in the way Antonina and Jan resist the Nazi occupation and their ideologies. 4/5.