5 stars

REVIEW: Capernaum (2018)

While serving a five-year sentence for a violent crime, twelve-year-old Zain (Zain Al Rafeea) decides to sue his parents for the neglect and the life they’ve given him.

Capernaum begins with Zain being led to court in handcuffs to sue his parents and then the story goes back so you can see how he ended up in this situation. To say that Zain’s life is a tough one would be an understatement but it’s how the film shows how so many people in his life struggle. While his parents are certainly at fault in the way they treat him and his siblings, it’s through the quieter moments that you can see that they are second guessing themselves and are making terrible choices as none of the options available to them are good ones. Zain is such a resourceful and strong boy, who has a great sense of empathy in spite of, or because of, the world he’s grown up in that doesn’t see value in children. He’s someone who tries to do the right thing by those he cares about, even if it might mean doing some light thievery to achieve his goal.

When Zain runs away from his parents, he meets undocumented worker Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw) and her baby son Yonas (Boluwatife Treasure Bankole). She takes him in and the three of them form a new kind of family. The whole cast is brilliant, but this trio were phenomenal. Al Rafeea is an incredible young performer and the way that director Nadine Labaki captures the dynamics between the children in this cast brings out some wonderful performances. There’re moments between Zain and Yonas that can’t have been perfectly scripted due to one of them being one years old, but they feel so sweet, intuitive and natural. The scenes with Zain and Yonas are so natural and are both sweet and heart-breaking at times.

It could’ve been so easy for Capernaum to just be sad and bleak but thanks to an organic screenplay and true to life oddities, there’s laughter to be found here. It also shows that while life and so many of the people in it can be terrible, there are kind people who want to help others with no ulterior motives as well. The way Capernaum is shot neither romanticises nor demonises the poverty Zain and the people he meets face. It’s an honest look at what’s life like for some people and, with its script that has so much natural dialogue, it makes Capernaum feel like you’re a spectator to Zain’s life for a while.

Capernaum is sad but it’s also funny and thoughtful. With a great cast led by Zain Al Rafeea, it’s a film about family, compassion and survival. It’s a film that’s often like a punch to the gut but it’s one that leaves a lasting impression. 5/5.

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REVIEW: The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven

Izzy never expected to be eighteen and internationally reviled. But when photos involving her, a politician’s son and a garden bench emerge, the trolls set out to take her apart. Izzy, along with her best friend Ajita, sets out to figure out who’s behind the vicious website while still trying to maintain her grades, humour and sanity. Izzy is about to find out that the way the world treats girls is not okay, and she’s not going to stand for it.

I loved this book so much. This review is probably just going to be me gushing about how The Exact Opposite of Okay gave me all the feels. It’s been so long since I’ve fallen so hard and fast for a book and a main character. I read some five star reads last year but none of those books were ones that I devoured quite like The Exact Opposite of Okay. I read most of this book in one sitting, and to be honest if I’d started it earlier on on the day I first picked it up, I’d probably have read it in one day too.

Izzy is just a phenomenal character. I loved her sense of humour and how she uses that and sarcasm to keep people at bay and to cover up how she really feels. (That’s something I can relate to) I also love how self-aware she is, she knows her faults even if she often tries to hide them from everyone else.

Izzy is a great character as while she readily admits she likes sex and dislikes the double standard men and women are held to when it comes to sex and their sexuality, it doesn’t mean that she’s not hurt, confused and ashamed when private photos of her are spread all over the internet. It’s one thing being confident in what and who you want, but it’s another when all your decisions and appearance is being scrutinised by not only everyone at your school, but all over the world.

I loved Izzy’s friendship with Ajita, how the two of them know each other so well and while they are from different backgrounds that can put them at a disadvantage in the world, Izzy is poor and Ajita is Nepalese-American, they can sympathise with each other over those things because they are unfair in different ways but they never presume one of their issues is bigger or worse than the others.

Izzy and Ajita’s other friend Danny is also important to them both but his behaviour and entitlement put my back up from the very beginning. He and Izzy had been friends since childhood but from the start of the book it’s clear he’s realised he likes Izzy more than just a friend and doesn’t handle the situation well. Danny was a great yet pretty unlikable character for the most part, and that’s because he’s so well-written and believable. I’m sure many women know or have known someone like Danny.

I really like the way The Exact Opposite of Okay was written. It’s all Izzy’s personal blog posts, but with little interjections from future-Izzy along the way. As someone who has had a blog in some shape or form for close to 15 years (I had a LiveJournal and all teenage-me’s deepest hopes and fears are there) I thought it captured the way people can sort of write like a stream of conscious about something that happened perfectly.

The Exact Opposite of Okay is a brilliant story about slut-shaming, revenge porn, and the so-called Friend Zone. It’s funny, unapologetic and truthful as you are willing Izzy to be strong and get through something terrible that she didn’t deserve. Because that’s the thing The Exact Opposite of Okay does so well, it shows Izzy’s struggle with guilt and feeling like she deserves the cruel comments and everything that goes with private images being shared online, but she doesn’t and it’s very clear about who’s in the wrong in the situation and that’s who made the website. We’re just over a week into 2019, but I doubt I’ll love another book this year like I love this one. 5/5.

REVIEW: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

After their universes collide, Miles Morales meets Peter Parker and a whole lot of other spider-people. As Miles starts to get to grips with his spider-powers, they all must work together in order to get home to their own universes.

When the first trailer for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse came out, I found it a bit disconcerting as the animation seemed to be so different to the animation style I’m used to seeing in Disney and Pixar films. I stand corrected though as the animation style is stunning and it works perfectly for the story. The animation is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. All the colours are so vibrant, they pop from the screen and make the films New York setting come alive in a totally different way. The blend of animation styles is wonderful, especially how each character from a different universe looked so unique. The whole film feels like a visual comic book with the way there’s words on the screen to emphasise a sound, and there’s moments where the screen is split up into comic panels.

But don’t think Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is style over substance, its story and characters are just as brilliant as its animation. Miles is a great character. He’s a realistic teenager with parents he sometimes finds annoying, struggling to fit in at a new school, and then he has superpowers to deal with. For a film with so many characters, and a lot of things happening, it never loses the focus on Miles. Miles is the heart and soul of this film, he’s the audience’s stand-in but he’s still a fully fleshed-out character.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is funny, touching, and exciting. It is action-packed and fast-paced, there’s always something happening whether it’s family drama or a big fight sequence, but it also has so much heart.

I loved Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. It’s one of my favourite films of the year, and I can’t wait to see it again. It’s a stunning film that made me tear up multiple times and for different reasons. There’s a lot of references to different Spider-Man films which is a lot of fun. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a film that knows how to poke fun at its comic book roots while still making a believable world full of heroes and villains. Oh, and make sure you stay till the very end of the credits! 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Northern Ireland: Multitudes by Lucy Caldwell

A collection of eleven short stories of childhood, adolescence and motherhood.

I’ve read a few short story collections for my Read the World Project (I find them to be a good way to gain an insight into a writer’s country and its people, and they’re also usual a quick read) but I’ve never had as much of a visceral reaction to a short story collection as I did with Lucy Caldwell’s Multitudes.

Each story ranges from 10 – 25 pages, some are in second person but most of them are in first person, and each story is about a female character. Each story is about a young girl, or a teenager, or a mother, and they’re each like a little snapshot in a moment of their lives. I think my favourites were “Thirteen”, “Through the Wardrobe” and “Inextinguishable”. In “Thirteen” a young teenager has to deal with her best friend moving to London, how they first of all write multiple letters to one another each week but slowly the letters stop being written. “Through the Wardrobe” is about a young trans girl figuring out why she feels sick when her older sisters are given Disney princess dresses for Christmas while she’s given a Peter Pan outfit. “Inextinguishable” is about a mother grieving for her daughter and finding some form of release in the music her daughter loved.

There are stories that feel very true to life. One story has a teenage girl being sexually harassed without really knowing what was happening, another story is about a teenager fantasizing about her teacher, or another feeling hollow and helpless.

Each story is powerful and compelling in its own way. They are stories about first loves, sexual desire and romance, but they are also about friendship, growing up and family. Some stories are sad, some are hopeful, while others are almost nostalgic and melancholy.

Caldwell really captured the mindset of young children, the pain of adolescence, and (I presume) the terrifying reality of being a parent. While I might not have been in some of the exact situations as the female characters in these stories, I remember idolising a baby sitter, losing touch with friends, and having a whole lot of feelings inside that I didn’t know what to do with. Each of the female characters felt so honest, true and relatable and that was down to the brilliant writing Multitudes is fantastic short story collection and I can’t recommend it enough. 5/5.

REVIEW: Gattaca (1997)

Set in the near future, parents genetical modifying their unborn children to be the best they can be is the norm. Vincent (Ethan Hawke) is an in-valid, someone who was conceived naturally and because his genetic make-up wasn’t modified is seen as inferior. In order to follow his dreams, Vincent assumes the identity of genetically superior Eugene (Jude Law) but soon the authorities are closing in and Vincent’s secret is under threat of being exposed.

One of the best things about Gattaca is its world-building. In many ways it’s quite a small film, it has only two main locations, three main characters and a very self-contained and character driven plot. But the way this idea that genetically modification has become the norm and anything else is seen as wrong and worthless, is interwoven so well in the characters actions, the story, and little every day life details in the set design, makes this future seem so realistic.

Through the costumes, the buildings, and the way characters interact, the world of Gattaca seems like a very uniform and sterile place. Because of the environment they’re in, when Vincent begins to get close to his co-worker Irene (Uma Thurman) you get a sense on unease. Not only because any relationship between them might expose his secret but because it feels like romance and love doesn’t fit in this world.

Vincent is a character who is almost instantly likeable. Eugene, on the other hand, is biting and cold and it’s as his relationship with Vincent evolves from being one where they both need something from one another, to one where they are almost friends, that makes Eugene more sympathetic and likable. Hawke and Law give great performances, bouncing off each other as their characters find their feet around one another.

Gattaca combines its sci-fi premise with a tense crime thriller, but at its heart Gattaca is an absorbing drama. It has a world that’s rich with ideas and it’s a film that believes the audience is intelligent enough to follow these characters in a world that’s so different yet it’s a world that you can see coming to pass at some point. 5/5.

REVIEW: Widows (2018)

Four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead criminal husbands, take their lives into their own hands as they conspire to steal the money they need to repay the men who are out to hurt them, and to make a better life for themselves.

Directed by Steve McQueen who cowrote the screenplay with Gillian Flynn, the author of Gone Girl and many other twisty stories, Widows is a tense heist thriller that never lacks in character and world building.

Widows grabs your attention straightaway, with the heist that goes wrong and leads to four career criminals dying. From then it’s an exploration of the people who are left behind and their grief and loss of what to do next. Viola Davis’s steely Veronica is the one who brings the widows together. She has plans left to her by her late husband (Liam Neeson) and needs help in order to get the money to stop those who wish to hurt her.

All four leading ladies are magnificent. Michelle Rodriguez’s Linda is struggling to provide for her young children, Elizabeth Debicki’s Alice has no career prospects, and Cynthia Erivo’s Belle is working multiple jobs to keep herself and her family afloat. They are four very different characters but they come together with one goal in mind. That’s not to say they don’t have their disagreements, but together they find a strength and determination that some of them didn’t know they had.

Set in Chicago with a backdrop of criminal activity, by politicians and more traditional criminals alike, Widows manages to be a compelling story about interesting and layered women while also managing to bring in race, politics and class into the story. These elements flesh out the Chicago setting. Colin Farrell plays Jack Mulligan, a career politician and whose family has been elected to office for generations, while Brian Tyree Henry plays Jamal Manning, a man who has criminal connections but is from the neighboured he’s campaigning to represent. These two men each have underhand dealings but they approach illegal activity, politics and violence in very different ways.

While Widows is building towards a heist, it’s the characters themselves and the stages they have to go through to prepare for the heist that’s the main focus of the film. That doesn’t make it, or the final crime, any less satisfying. You learn about these women, the hardships they’ve faced, and the forces that are out to stop them, and you soon realise that nothing is going to stop them from doing what they set out to do. 5/5.

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)

Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione’s (Emma Waston) search for the remaining Horcruxes brings the back to Hogwarts, where the final battle for the fate of the wizarding world rages on.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is near enough all action. It’s thrilling and spectacular action too. The battle of Hogwarts is thrilling and brutal. School kids get hurt, teachers fight and there’s so many loved characters in peril. With so many people on either side of the battle field, it has all the scope of an epic war movie, and it feels like one too. Especially as it packs an emotional punch when there’s naturally casualties of war.

In amongst all the explosions and magical firefights, there’s some lovely little character moments too. Neville (Matthew Lewis) gets his time to shine, being a natural hero and leader to those left behind at Hogwarts. Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) standing up for her students and protecting her school is wonderful, as is any moment between any members of the Weasley family.

The performances are all brilliant. Supporting actors like Alan Rickman get the chance to show off a more nuanced performance as Snape. Likewise, Ralph Fiennes’ Voldemort is not just the shouty villain we’ve seen previously; here he is scared, angry and powerful, an intimidating presence that seems to be on the edge of either victory.

Radcliffe, Watson and Grint have all matured in their roles, each giving a powerful performance as their characters arcs some to a close. This trio is the heart and soul of this film, and the franchise as a whole, and they all do their characters proud.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is an incredibly satisfying and exciting conclusion to the Harry Potter series. 5/5.