5 stars

REVIEW: The Hate U Give (2018)

Starr (Amanda Stenberg) has two lives, one in her poor black neighbourhood and one in her affluent, predominately white private school. Those two lives come crashing down when she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil (Algee Smith) by a police officer, and Starr must find her voice and stand up for what’s right.

The Hate U Give is a fantastic film. It’s about so many real-world problems affecting black people. It talks about race, discrimination, poverty, drugs and violence. Starr lives in a neighbourhood where there’s so many open and warm people, but there’s also the gang led by King (Anthony Mackie) that is a constant threatening presence in everyone’s lives. Starr describes herself as two people, Starr Version One is who she is at home, when she’s with her family and her people, Starr Version Two is who she is at school, where she doesn’t use any slang and doesn’t cause a fuss.

Amandla Stenberg is fantastic at showing the different sides of Starr, how they conflict and how over the cause of the investigation into Khalil’s death she learns to find her voice and be her true self. Starr is more of a watcher to begin with, standing in the corner at parties and just watching how events unfold. More things, often horrible things, happen to her than her being proactive, but as the fear and pressure mounts, she starts to choose to react to what she’s seen and it’s all the more powerful when she does.

Stenberg carries the film brilliantly, but she’s also surrounded by a great cast, the majority of which give nuanced performances. Russell Hornsby and Regina Hall play Starr’s parents Maverick and Lisa, who each want the best for Starr and their family as a whole but that translates into different things. Lisa wants to protect her family, ideally moving them out of the neighbourhood to somewhere safer, while Maverick says this is their home and encourages Starr to speak out and do what she thinks is right. They are both incredibly loving parents and any scenes with Starr and her family can go from being sweet and funny one moment, to them all suddenly being under threat.

Besides from being a film with an important message, The Hate U Give also shows the life of a modern teenage girl to great effect. Starr and her friends have Tumblr’s, they have different tastes in music, and when friendships become strained Starr must weigh up the positives and the negatives to see if this relationship she wants to fight for. It’s the little things, Starr’s love of The Fresh Prince and how she and her friends used to play at being Harry Potter makes her a relatable modern teenager.

The Hate U Give is a heart-breaking and powerful film, but at its heart there is a strength to it and so much heart. It will make you cry but it will also make you laugh. It balances so many different elements but with an assured direction from George Tillman Jr. and Amandla Stenberg’s phenomenal lead performance, The Hate U Give is an incredible film that will stand the test of time. 5/5.

I read, loved and reviewed The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas last year, you can find that review here.

Advertisements

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

It’s Harry’s (Daniel Radcliffe) third year at Hogwarts and it brings a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Lupin (David Thewlis). But there’s danger for Harry as convicted murderer Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped from Azkaban prison and is coming after Harry.

I will preface this review by saying that not only is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban my favourite book in the series, it is also my favourite film. So potentially this “review” is a little biased.

There’s a lot of new, and important characters introduced in Prisoner of Azkaban. Both Lupin and Black have history with Harry’s parents, giving him an emotional connection to them both. The Dementors are also introduced and they are some scary creatures that from the outset you can see the affect they have on people. They can suck the soul out of someone and with their black cloaks and hooded figures, they are very much like the grim reaper.

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, there’s some dark and scary imagery in this film. In one of the first scenes where Harry is near a park, the creaking sounds of the swings and the roundabout moving in the wind instantly shows what sort of tone the film’s going to have. There’s some beautiful imagery in Prisoner of Azkaban too, the scene where Harry’s flying on Buckbeak the Hippogriff is stunning and the scenes with the Dementors circling Hogwarts as plants wither and die as they pass over them is incredibly eerie yet beautiful.

Everything about Prisoner of Azkaban is more mature. The young cast have grown up a bit since the last film and are more assured in their performances. The tone of the film is darker, gone are the bright colours of the previous two films, instead the landscapes are more muted and Quidditch is played in the rain.

There’s a lot of little things that I love about Prisoner of Azkaban. Like there’s a few scenes of Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint), Neville (Matthew Lewis), Seamus (Devon Murray), and Dean Thomas (Alfred Enoch) hanging out and having fun which makes them all feel like actual friends who’ve known each other for a few years now. I like how when the kids are wearing their uniforms, they aren’t all neat and tidy anymore, instead ties are loose, shirts are untucked, and sleeves are rolled up, making each character feel like a real teenager at school. Everyone’s hair is perfect book-hair too.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is brilliant as it has both a sense of wonder and an underlying layer of threat. It’s funny, the characters are becoming more well-rounded and the performances are getting better and better. It’s such a great film, and while there are changes from the book, it’s a great adaptation as it keeps the heart of it. 5/5.

REVIEW: Train to Busan (2016)

When a zombie virus breaks out in South Korea, businessman Seok-woo (Gong Yoo), his young daughter Soo-an (Kim Su-an) and fellow passengers struggle to survive on the train from Seoul to Busan.

I’d heard a lot of positive things about the Train to Busan over the past year or so, and I had meant to watch it sooner, but you know how these things work. Last week it was announced that there was going to be an American remake and my Twitter feed went slightly mad for Train to Busan, so it gave me the push to finally watch it.

And I loved it.

The zombie element was brilliant. It looked like it was mostly tonnes of extras used rather than computer generated zombies when there was. The actors who played the infected characters must be either contortionists or dancers (or both) because the way they moved their bodies was unnatural and with the added makeup made it very unsettling.

It’s not only the infected people that the passengers of the train have to deal with, but each other. Mistrust, greed and self-interest are a big part of some of these characters motivations. Some put themselves before others, while others learn to work together in order to keep their humanity as they try and survive.

The action sequences are utilised well, and the film knows how to build tension and have a decent payoff. While Seok-woo and his daughter are the characters you’re first introduced to, and are probably considered the main characters, there’s so many other characters introduced that due to performances and the script are instantly likeable and sympathetic. There’s a lot of people you want to survive but due to the nature of the film, you know that’s not going to be the case.

Train to Busan is a zombie-horror film but it is a film that has a lot of heart and there are a lot of moments that pull on your heartstrings due to the tension and the performances. It’s a film with a lot of surprises and it puts your emotions through the ringer.

Train to Busan is exciting, emotional, thrilling and all in all is a fantastic film. 5/5.

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)

On the run up the release of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald I’m rewatching and reviewing all the Harry Potter films, including Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, as they’re films that made up a big part of my childhood but I’ve never reviewed them before.

Orphaned Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) discovers he’s a wizard and joins the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where he makes new friends and rivals and learns that there’s an evil that haunts the magical world.

It’s hard to talk about the Harry Potter films individually when you’ve seen the entire series and have read the books. You know where all these characters end up and The Philosopher’s Stone sets up so many character arcs and mentions so many people or items that will become more important later on in the grand scheme of things, and it does it all so well. With hindsight I appreciate The Philosopher’s Stone a lot, it’s a perfect introduction to this whole new magical world, taking the time to explain things while still having a compelling mystery at its core.

While he’s learning magic and potions, Harry meets Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) who soon become his best friends. When they’re not in classes the three of them stumble across a massive three-headed dog and soon get involved in a secret hidden in their school. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone works so well because one of its main story elements is the adults don’t or won’t believe the children, so they are the ones who have to go on a potentially dangerous adventure to save the day. Everyone has been a child so it’s a situation we can all relate to.

The main young trio Radcliffe, Grint and Hermione Watson give fine performances but it’s the adult cast that’s built around them that manages to be great but at the same time never overshadows their child co-stars. Richard Harris as Dumbledore is brilliant, he’s wise and calm but it’s clear he’s powerful and respected. Maggie Smith and Robbie Coltrane, as Professor McGonagall and Hagrid respectively, both bring warmth and humour to their roles. It’s Alan Rickman as Professor Snape that really stands out though. He plays Snape with such nuance that he’s an intriguing character from the outset.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is so bright and colourful which you appreciate more when you think about how dark, both in tone and colour palette, the latter films get. While some of the special effects have not aged so well, the Quidditch match is still thrilling to watch. The score is beautiful, and it’s funny going back to the beginning because these musical cues have become so iconic, and who knew this music would be here to stay.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a great family film. It’s funny, exciting and has a compelling mystery at its heart. It’s a great starting point for adapting the books. 5/5.

REVIEW: The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

Set in France during the 1620s, young d’Artagnan looks to join the King’s Musketeers where he meets Athos, Porthos and Aramis. Soon the four of them become firm friends and they have adventures across the country as there’s many plots afoot.

Every August Rincey from Rincey Reads on YouTube hosts a month long readalong of a large and maybe intimidating classic. This year it was The Three Musketeers, a book that’s been on my shelves for at least ten years, so this readalong gave me the push to finally read it.

I’ve seen a lot of different adaptations of The Three Musketeers, I saw some of the episodes of the relatively recent BBC series and I’ve seen a whole host of the various films that have been made over the decades. So, going into The Three Musketeers, I could remember bits about the characters, their relationships, and the story but it was really interesting to learn more about them and get the whole story.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Tristam Summers and it was a great audiobook that sucked me in and I’d definitely recommend it as it made the story fly by and wasn’t as intimidating as the physical book might’ve been.

The main plot of The Three Musketeers takes a while to reveal itself, instead focussing on introducing all the characters and their loyalties. I was surprised how much of the focus of the story was on d’Artagnan, especially the first third. He was definitely the main character rather than the titular three musketeers themselves. Athos is the musketeer with the most backstory, I personally found Aramis kind of snarky and frequently hilarious (he’s my favourite musketeer) but he and especially Porthos were left in the background for the majority of the book.

Once everyone’s been introduced the story moves along at great speed. There’s political intrigue with some people supporting the King, or more specifically the Queen, while others stand by the Cardinal who has he’s own goals. He’s a shady character who seems to have eyes and ears everywhere so when d’Artagnan and the musketeers have a mission, they have to very careful as to who they trust.

The female characters aren’t treated particularly well which is a shame and is potentially a sign of the time it was written. Milady de Winter is a fantastic character though and I would read a spinoff or a prequel about her. She’s a spy and an assassin who uses men’s idea of her, that she can be nothing more than a weak, delicate woman, in order to complete her mission and in some cases get away with murder. She’s brilliant and her interactions with both d’Artagnan and Athos were always interesting.

I loved The Three Musketeers. It is a proper action-adventure with some political intrigue and romance sprinkled through it as well. The characters, especially d’Artagnan, ends up in a completely different place compared to where they started, and I could never have predicted where the story goes even though I’ve seen various film adaptations. The Three Musketeers is just a lot of fun. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Belgium: Thirty Days by Annelies Verbeke

Translated by Liz Waters.

Alphonse is a friendly and observant former musician, who has left Brussels with his girlfriend Cat to live closer to her parents in the rural district of Westhoek. It’s a place that has open fields and more World War I graves than almost anywhere else in Europe. Alphonse starts a new life as a painter and decorator, and he becomes entwined in so many peoples lives. But when he, Cat and one of his clients help a group of Afghans and Syrians at a makeshift refugee camp, he learns that not all of the locals appreciate what they’re doing.

Somewhat surprisingly the first chapter in Thirty Days is chapter 30, and each chapter number decreases. While it’s a slow book to get going, this adds to the fact that the story appears to be building to something – and it certainly does build to something unexpected. Plus, like the title suggests, it each chapter is a day, something I didn’t register to begin with.

I really liked Alphonse, but I could see why his partner Cat would get frustrated with him. He’s a painter and decorator so he goes to various people’s homes to do a job but there’s something about him that causes his clients to offload a lot of their thoughts or secrets on him. He becomes involved in so many people’s lives and Cat doesn’t always like that as it takes his time and thoughts away from her and their life together. He’s a guy that’s almost too nice for his own good but his niceness is never off-putting or eyeroll-inducing.

Alphonse is victim to a lot of racism ranging from micro aggressions, being asked where he’s really from after first saying Brussels, to full on hostility, such as when a client’s neighbour accuses him of trying to break into their house. As Thirty Days is from Alphonse’s point of view, it never stops and describes how he or Cat look like, so you get to know him without any preconceptions meaning when he does experience racism it’s more of a shock and an interesting way of presenting what he faces.

Surprisingly, Alphonse doesn’t encounter the refugee camp until the last third of the book. Instead, the clients he has and his relationships with them, and his girlfriend and their friends and family, is the main focus of a lot of this story.

Thirty Days is beautifully written and it’s a moving story. The themes of being a good person, helping others but still making sure you don’t give up all of yourself are all handled well. As is both the underlying and overt racism Alphonse experiences, in every day life, and when he tries to help refugees who are just looking for somewhere to call home. It deals with so many opposites, good and evil, beauty and ugliness but it never feels preachy. Thirty Days is a compelling story and I devoured the last few chapters as I just had to know where things were going for Alphonse. 5/5.

REVIEW: Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

Rachel (Constance Wu) and Nick (Henry Golding) have been dating for over a year, and when it’s Nick’s best friend Colin’s (Chris Pang) wedding in Singapore, it’s the perfect chance for Rachel to meet Nick’s family and friends – what she doesn’t expect is for them all to be super rich and famous!

Based on the book of the same name by Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians is a romantic comedy that’s big, bright and full of over the top characters and settings, and somehow it all works.

Singapore with all its people, buildings and food looks stunning. The film captures the extravagance of these characters lives, showing all the glitz and glamour but still being able to shine light, however briefly, on the characters more hidden sides – one of Nick’s cousins Astrid (Gemma Chan) has a subplot with her dissatisfied husband (Pierre Png) that’s heart-breaking.

Rachel and Nick are a believable couple as their chemistry is fantastic and they actually talk about the problems they encounter – though both of them don’t always understand what the other could face because of their relationship. Rachel’s main adversary is Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), Nick’s glamourous and reserved mother. She wants the best for her son and see’s Rachel as an outsider and a distraction, both because of Rachel’s status in class, and the fact she grew up in America. As Eleanor’s disapproval becomes more obvious, Rachel must decide whether to fight or give in to the almost insurmountable pressures she and Nick are under. While Eleanor is the villain to Rachel’s hero, the film never fully villainises her, instead being sure to show Eleanor’s side to things and making her sympathetic in her own way.

The whole cast is brilliant and while the romance is the main focus, the film showcases some brilliant relationships between women. There’s Rachel and her best friend from university Peik Lin (Awkwafina) who is hilarious and supportive, Astrid is one of the few members of her family to fully accept and like Rachel straight away, and Rachel and mother (Kheng Hua Tan) have one of the best mother-daughter relationships, and while her mother is from China, even she doesn’t quite get all the ins and outs of high Singapore society.

Crazy Rich Asians is a funny, romantic film with engaging characters you root for. Everything works, the opulence, the music and the cast. It’s a delightful film that’s pure escapism and there’s nothing wrong with that. 5/5.

You can read my review of the book here.