4 stars

REVIEW: Fast & Furious 8 (2017)

When Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is seduced into the world of terrorism by the mysterious Cipher (Charlize Theron), his family and crew must join with old foes in order to stop him.

Fast & Furious 8 really steps it up a gear in terms of stunts and spectacle. There’s car chases on the streets of New York, a giant wrecking ball taking out cars and, of course, a submarine vs cars on ice sequence. They shouldn’t work and sometimes it’s a little chaotic to follow where everyone is but it’s best to let the adrenalin start pumping and go along for the ride.

Cipher is a very different kind of villain to what the crew has faced before. She’s almost all seeing and all-knowing thanks to her hacking skills and is powerful enough to get Dom to turn on his family for her. Most of her scenes are with Dom so it would’ve been nice to see her interact with more of the characters and see how characters like loud-mouth Roman (Tyrese Gibson) would react her.

It’s weird going into a Fast and Furious film without Paul Walker being there and they do have a reason why he and Jordana Brewster are not in the film, but the film generally still holds up with the old crew and a few new additions. There’s Eric (Scott Eastwood) Mr. Nobody’s (Kurt Russell) new protégée, who takes a while to gel and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) is roped in to join the team. The conflict between him and the team is a bit hit and miss, the film quickly brushes off his history with the team (they almost killed his brother and he in turn killed one of their own and tried to kill the rest of them in the last film) and it would’ve been nice to see some more of that conflict. The one place you do feel that tension is between Shaw and Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), their chemistry is great and there’s a lot of humour from them two trash talking each other.

Each member of the team has their moment to shine but in many ways, this is Dom’s film. He has the emotional beats of the film, along with (to a lesser extent) Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). She, as his wife, is the most visibly torn up about his betrayal and while she does have some cringey lines, she gives a good performance.

What can I say, if you’ve seen any of the recent Fast and Furious films then you know what you’ll be getting into – a world where the laws of physics don’t apply and the main crew of street racers are more like spies or superheroes nowadays. Fast & Furious 8 continues to be a lot of fun with a thrilling finale and a lot of laughs all the way through the film – it’s mad but it works. 4/5.

REVIEW: Men Explain Things to Me and Other Essays by Rebecca Solnit

A short collection of feminist essays looking at rape culture, family, Virginia Woolf and everything else in between.

In 2008 Rebecca Solnit wrote an essay titled “Men Explain Things to Me” which struck a chord with people. Through other readers sharing their experiences, that essay was the catalyst of the term mansplaining. It’s was an interesting and relatable essay and it was great to see where the phrase mansplaining came from. As Solnit explains “I love it when people explain things to me they know and I’m interested in but don’t yet know; it’s when they explain things to me I know and they don’t that the conversation goes wrong.” I agree with that statement wholeheartedly and that’s what’s so frustrating about mansplaining.

The other essays are pretty good too. Naturally there’s some I like more than others for instance, I didn’t really enjoy the one inspired by Virginia Woolf’s writings as I’ve only read one of her books so don’t have much of a connection to her.

I like how Rebecca Solnit writes and her essays are all accessible, no matter what your background knowledge on the various subjects she talks about. It’s an interesting collection as they’re essays from 2008-2014 so some of the events she talks about I didn’t really remember, while others like the Delhi gang rape in 2012 are still fresh in my mind.

I did enjoy “Pandora’s Box and the Volunteer Police Force.” Written in 2014 it’s all about how feminism and women have got a long way to go but they’ve still made some headway. It’s also about the idea that the Pandora’s Box full of equality for men, women, LGBT+ people and all races has been opened and people won’t be able to stuff those who once were (and in many cases still are) back in a box and away from the general public. I don’t know if I’ve described it very well but I like the idea that the world is becoming a more tolerant place no matter what people may say or do and it can continue to, slowly but surely, get better.

That’s the thing with this collection of essays, like most feminist literature it makes you angry at the injustices in the world but it also offers a spark of hope that things will indeed get better. 4/5.

REVIEW: Letters to Eloise by Emily Williams

*I received a free e-copy of this book in return for an honest review*

When Flora, a post-graduate Uni student, falls unexpectedly pregnant during her final year of studies her plans for her future are thrown into chaos as she now has someone else to look out for. As Flora reads many baby books she must figure out if she will continue with her recent affair with a handsome lecturer or should she chase after the past with her estranged first love?

Letters to Eloise is an example of epistolary fiction as it’s made up of a series of letters from Flora to her unborn child. They start as soon as Flora realises she’s pregnant and follows all the ups and downs of pregnancy. The letters also slowly reveal the circumstances of her baby being conceived, the potential dads (though Flora is always confident in who the father is, it takes a while for her to tell the reader) and the good and bad times Flora has had with friends, family and love interests. Sometimes it can be a bit confusing as Flora’s letters go back and forth from the present to various points in the past but I soon got my head around it.

I’ve never read a book where one of the main themes or storyline is pregnancy (and I’ve never been pregnant myself) so I was unsure how I would connect with a book, and a character, whose pretty much whole life now revolves around being pregnant and being an expectant mother. But I did connect with Flora. Her student life and the friends she has at university, are what pulled me in to start with but she’s a likable and understandable character and I wanted to see her happy.

I loved the dynamic between Flora, her best friend Brooke and their housemate Brian. It felt like the sort of relationship I had with my university friends and flatmates, especially how there’s very few secrets between them.

Letters to Eloise is set during the early and mid-1990’s and I really liked how the lack of mobile phones and the internet was naturally woven into the story. Flora would send letters to people or have to go to a phone box at the end of the street if she needed to call someone as her student house didn’t have a landline. It’s great as this time where people weren’t necessarily so easy to contact allows for some drama and surprises.

Letters to Eloise is a book that sucks you in, it’s a small, almost personal story but it’s a touching one. 4/5.

REVIEW: Kong: Skull Island (2017)

A team of scientists led by Bill Randa (John Goodman) aided by a unit of soldiers led by Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) set out to explore an uncharted island in the Pacific but they soon find themselves outgunned as they venture into the domain of the mighty Kong.

Kong: Skull Island is a lot of fun. It’s an action/war/monster movie hybrid that manages to work most the time. It’s an action movie with colour! Not to the same extent of films like Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and Pacific Rim (2013) but enough to make it noticeable in a good way. The stuff it does with smoke, fire and shadow is also brilliant, the scale of Kong and the other creatures living on the island comes across great and the film knows how to amp up the suspense.

Kong is brilliant. The scenes with him smashing helicopters or creatures are thrilling and then there’s the quieter moments when you see Kong just going about his life and being a good King. It’s brilliant animation work and every moment he’s on screen you can’t take your eyes off him.

The cast is a proper star-studded cast. Some have more to do than others, for instance Tom Hiddleston’s James Conrad is a tracker and is ex-SAS who does seem to be pretty amazing at everything he turns his hand to, while the majority of the soldiers are expendable and don’t always have decent character beats. Brie Larson was great, she played Mason Weaver a war photographer who thinks there’s something up with the expedition and she has good chemistry with pretty much everyone on screen. That being said, a lot of the characters are archetypes. That might not work for some people but it worked for me, most still have a moment where it makes you care about them and you only need

There are jokes in Kong: Skull Island, some fall flat especially at the beginning when it seems as if the film is finding its feet, but the rest of the time they work for the most part – or if they miss the mark, there’s so many monsters and fighting going on then you don’t really notice. The jokes do become more frequent when we meet Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) and his lines tend to work more often than not.

The soundtrack is also worth mentioning. It’s great, full of popular songs from the 1970’s but they don’t always fit what’s happening on screen – there’s only so many shots of someone switching on a record player to show why there’s suddenly some David Bowie or Creedence Clearwater Revival playing before it comes a little tedious.

Kong: Skull Island is great fun. The CGI is ace, the action scenes are fun and exciting and it’s pure, fun entertainment for less than two hours. Oh and there is a post-credits scene and it’s worth sticking around for. 4/5.

REVIEW: Ride (2014)

ride-posterWhen Angelo (Brenton Thwaites) drops out of school and moves to California to live with his dad and to surf, his mother Jackie (Helen Hunt) follows him.

Ride is a delightful little film about family, finding your own path and letting go. Jackie is a workaholic but she is also very overprotective and caring towards her son. She definitely comes across as super clingy and her and Angelo’s relationship is a bit odd. They bicker like an old married couple rather than argue like parent and child. It’s a bit uncomfortable to start with but you soon get used to it and learn why they’re like that. That being said, their weird relationship does lead to a lot of funny moments.

When Jackie follows Angelo across the country she ends up employing Ramon (David Zayas) as her driver and he really doesn’t understand her for a lot of the film, and she meets Ian (Luke Wilson) who attempts to teach her to surf. The scenes with the three of them are often the funniest, especially anytime the trio runs into Angelo.

All the characters in Ride feel real, especially Jackie and Angelo. I feel the screenplay and the performances are what really stands out. You find yourself invested in this mother and son’s relationship, and anyone who has had a clingy parent (or has found themselves being one) will see themselves to some extent in this film.

Ride is a small film but it has a big heart. That’s mostly down to the performances from the cast, Hunt especially is incredible and the scenes she shares with Thwaites are always captivating – whether that’s because they’re funny or surprisingly sweet and heartfelt. 4/5.

REVIEW: Coin Heist (2017)

coin-heist-movie-posterWhen the principle of Dennington Prep is arrested for embezzling school funds, his son Jason (Alex Saxon) hatches a plan with three other students to do the impossible and steal from the U.S. Mint in order to save their school.

Coin Heist is a heist film (the title gives it away) but it still has some high school and family drama in it that instead of taking away from the main story, it enriches it. The four unlikely friends who come up with this plan on paper look very much like the usual high school stereotypes, but through good performances and a well-written script, the film slowly shows that they are all more than the reductive labels put on them by the genre.

Benny (Jay Walker) is the footballer whose scholarship goes down the drain when the schools’ funds disappear, Dakota (Sasha Pieterse) is the grade A student who would really rather perform, Jason is often seen as a slacker but he turns out to think quick on his feet, and Alice (Alexis G. Zall) is the hacker who doesn’t want people to see her vulnerability. They are all more than their stereotypes and seeing how their relationship grows is a pleasant surprise.

Coin Heist also has a brilliant soundtrack. It’s almost reminiscent of the 80’s teen movies sometimes, it has some techno tracks and indie music that all fits with the story so incredibly well.

Coin Heist is a fun film, with a solid cast of characters committing a clever heist that you don’t tend to see in the genre. It might be a smaller scale heist but it’s no less fun and still has the usual twists and turns seen in the genre. 4/5.

REVIEW: Sully (2016)

sully-movie-posterThe story of Chesley Sullenberger (Tom Hanks), an American pilot who, along with his crew, became a hero after being forced to land a plane on the Hudson River in order to save the 155 souls on board.

The way this story is told is different to what one might expect. The film makes you wait, for what can feel like an excruciating long time, to see the full sequence of the plane coming down onto the Hudson. There’s snippets of flashbacks throughout the film, complimenting what’s happening in the present as Sully and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) try and make sense of what happened, but you have to wait to the final act to see it all come together.

The sequence of the plane coming down is dynamic and thrilling and the special effects are top notch. The sequence, along with the whole film really, brings you that pleasure of seeing people being competent at their jobs and keeping their heads in a crisis. The aftermath of the water landing shows the best people have to offer with everyone pulling together and shows how regular tour boats came to the rescue.

Sully is an incredible true story and seeing the events in the air and learning about the hearings Sully and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles had to attend to prove they made the right decision is great. Director Clint Eastwood allows the true events to speak for themselves and manages to avoid most clichés often seen in autobiographical films. Sully is a polished film with a great performances and Tom Hanks is on fine form as always. 4/5.